The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina is backing down from its unprecedented broad request for voter information that could have compromised the privacy of more than two million cast ballots.
The Assistant U.S. Attorney who made the requests, Sebastian Kielmanovich, wrote a letter Thursday to State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement General Counsel Josh Lawson outlining a compromise that would protect voters’ confidentiality while also preserving the information his office really needed for its investigation.
“In our conversations you noted the difficulty that Boards of Elections may have in responding to the subpoenas by the deadline set in those subpoenas due to the press of business as final preparations are made for the upcoming November election,” the letter states. “We understand and appreciate that concern and want to do nothing to impede those preparations or to affect participation in or the outcome of those elections.”
Kielmanovich stated that if the Board of Elections and the county boards of elections agreed not to destroy the information they requested in the subpoenas, his office would be willing to extend the deadline for compliance until “well after the upcoming election cycle is completed and the elected officials take office.”
“Put more specifically, assuming the Board agrees to the preservation of the requested documents, we can postpone compliance until January 2019,” the letter states. “We are also willing to agree to compliance with the subpoena on a rolling basis to allow for the effort and work which will be necessary to comply with the request.”
Subpoenas were faxed Friday (before the three-day holiday weekend) to 44 county boards of elections in the eastern part of the state requesting “any and all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, and executed official ballots (including absentee official ballots), that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by the  County Board[s] of Elections from August 30, 2013, through August 30, 2018.”
There was also a subpoena sent to the State Board asking for “any and all voter registration applications” in addition to federal write-in absentee ballots, one-stop (early voting) application forms, provisional voting forms, “admission or denial of non-citizen return forms,” and voter registration cancellations or voter revocation forms, among other documents.
The State Board called a meeting Friday to address the subpoenas but expressed concern in the meantime about the volume of documents requested.
The State Board reported that it keeps in excess of 15 million documents and images stored in its voter registration database. The information it would be forced to release includes 2,268,167 early voting ballots that would be traceable to the individuals who cast them and 3,367,012 Election Day ballots that would not be traceable.
In his letter, Kielmanovich said he would be willing to discuss the scope of the subpoenas and work with Lawson to determine whether that it could be narrowed “to ensure compliance while limiting production to those documents which are most relevant to the inquiry.”
“In particular, it may be unnecessary to produce all cast ballots,” he wrote. “Moreover, as part of the production process we want to protect the confidentiality of any cast ballot that is provided. Therefore, to the extent ballots are produced, we ask that the actual vote information be redacted, to the greatest extent possible. In other words, we want to prevent disclosure of any voter’s actual choice of candidates in any race. That specific information is not relevant to our inquiry.”
NC Policy Watch was the first to obtain the letter from Kielmanovich, which was sent to county boards of elections just before 2 p.m. Thursday. Read the full letter below.
The 44 county boards of elections that received a subpoena are in Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Vance, Wake, Warren, Washington, Wayne and Wilson counties.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated throughout the day.