Commentary

Today’s non-hurricane “must read”: Has NC become democracy’s twilight zone?

For those North Carolinians who find themselves staring at their computer screens and mobile devices today, awaiting Florence’s painfully slow arrival, there’s a non-hurricane related essay on WRAL.com today that ought to be a “must read.” It’s authored by Bob Phillips, the veteran leader of the state’s Common Cause affiliate and it’s entitled “Has North Carolina become democracy’s twilight zone?” here are some excerpts:

“Just as the state is preparing for the November election, the federal government last week dropped a bombshell of a subpoena on 44 eastern North Carolina county boards of elections and the State Board of Elections. The order: Turn over all ballots, poll books, absentee ballot requests, registration applications and other election related documents since 2010. Do so by Sept. 25.

That’s was a request for 20 million voting records to be turned over inside a month. While federal officials have pushed their deadline back to after the election, it is by any standard a massive and expensive request.

This incredible demand is traced to ICE, the federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency. It comes after a federal grand jury’s indictment against 19 foreign nationals for possible voter fraud in our state during the 2016 election.

Nineteen people who may have voted illegally. Nineteen people out of 4.5 million ballots cast in the 2016 election. Nineteen people who range in ages from 30’s to 70’s and come from countries in Europe, South America and Asia.

That is 0.0004% of all those who voted in 2016. Is this what widespread voter fraud looks like?

And does 19 individuals possibly voting illegally in the 2016 election really warrant the subpoena of millions of voting records going back to 2010?

Apparently so for ICE, the U.S. Attorney’s office in eastern North Carolina, the state legislative leadership who’ve remained silent and some of our Republican congressional representatives who seem to think the feds don’t need to be questioned about any of this.

Contrast the muted concern over this massive government request for the personal information of millions of North Carolina citizens with the outrage these same members of congress are expressing outrage over the Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election.

By the way, the feds’ document demand includes up to 2 million ballots that will show how people voted. Breaching the privacy of the ballot box didn’t seem to matter to our U.S. Attorney serving the Eastern District of our state.

But wait, there’s more. The feds also subpoenaed the state Division of Motor Vehicles asking for every voter registration application since 2010 from foreign-born applicants as well as any application forms completed in a language other than English.

We all want our elections to be fair and without any fraudulent voting. But it’s hard to square the demand for millions of voting records just before an election as being reasonable.”

After noting that the subpoenas target parts of the state with minority populations that have long been the target of conservative voter suppression efforts, Phillips concludes this way:

“Sadly, this is North Carolina’s story in recent years – suppress the vote by law if you can or by intimidation – as in ICE requesting a mountain of sensitive voting records just before an election.

To the State Board of Elections’ credit, the bipartisan board of four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member all came together and unanimously voted to direct their attorney to fight the subpoena.

The state Attorney General’s office has filed a separate action and at least two N.C. Democratic members of congress are calling for an independent investigation.

So, the drama continues. The request for voting records remains.

But it’s encouraging to see a growing number of people realize the overreach of what is an unprecedented and outrageous demand from a federal government agency on our state.

Fight back indeed. Our democracy is worth it.”

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

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