Top Democratic lawmakers are calling for an investigation into the legality and political motivation of several “overly broad” federal subpoena requests that were made to North Carolina election officials for voter information.
The requests were made late last week via fax from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and had initially asked for the production of 15 million documents in 20 days — while election officials are in the middle of preparing for midterm elections.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office backed off after significant media coverage, but is still asking for a wide breadth of information and for the State Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement and 44 county boards of elections in the eastern part of the state to preserve everything.
“According to news reports, the State Board … has voted to ask the North Carolina Attorney General to seek to quash the subpoenas recently issued … Although we are confident in the appropriateness of the subpoenas, you have the right to seek review of this; and we look forward to present our position to the court,” a letter that surfaced Friday afternoon states. “In the meantime, we want to remind you of the obligation of both you and the County Boards to preserve all documents that are reasonably subject to the subpoena, pending a court determination of the appropriateness of the subpoena.”
The State Board had already mentioned in its Friday morning meeting the need to preserve election data before receiving the letter.
A few hours after the State Board meeting, North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield released a letter he and six other members of Congress sent to the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ICE asking them to “promptly undertake an investigation to determine the legal implications of and rationale for these subpoenas.”
“These subpoenas are overly broad, request private voter information, and appear to target voters of color,” the letter states. “Accordingly, we respectfully request that you undertake an investigation to examine the circumstances by which these subpoenas were issued, the scope of the subpoenas, and the seemingly political motivations behind them.”
Election officials, voters and voting rights organizations are still questioning why the subpoenas were sent in the first place. National news outlets have cited anonymous sources saying the requests were connected to an investigation in which 19 foreign nationals were recently indicted for voting illegally, but election experts have said there was a much more narrow way to go about it if that were really the case.
There’s been broad speculation that the requests were just a way for the Trump Administration to interfere with North Carolina’s upcoming midterm elections. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert Higdon Jr., was appointed by President Donald Trump.
The letter signed by the Congress members states that it’s not a surprise the subpoenas target North Carolina voter rolls, “as the state has a history of voter suppression.”
“At a time when DOJ should be investigating voter suppression, it appears that the Department is instead supporting it,” the letter states.
The Congress members suggest several questions to help determine the true motivation of the subpoenas. Read the letter in full below.
“Given what we know about the scope of the subpoenas, and the counties that were targeted, we are concerned that this could be part of the Trump administration’s dangerous and anti-democratic strategy of voter suppression and intimidation to limit equal access to the ballot box,” it states.
In addition to Butterfield, the following Congress members signed the letter: David E. Price (D-NC), Alma S. Adams (D-NC), Committee on House Administration ranking member Robert A. Brady (D-PA), Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).