Ten civil rights organizations signed on to a letter Wednesday asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw the recently issued subpoenas in North Carolina seeking millions of voter records.
“It’s clear that these subpoenas are a fishing expedition that aims to intimidate voters of color in North Carolina,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Americans should have the peace of mind to know that when they cast their ballot, it is not going to examined by government officials in a way that discloses personally identifying information and how they voted. This effort not only undermines the privacy interests of voters, it also eliminates a crucial element of every free and fair election — the secrecy of the ballot.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had initially asked at the end of August for the production of 15 million voter documents within 20 days by the State Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement and 44 county boards of elections.
They backed off after significant media coverage, but are still asking for a wide breadth of information (including poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents) 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.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also subpoenaed voter information from the state Department of Motor Vehicles — that request, however, was more narrow and targeted mainly immigrants and foreign-born citizens.
The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office is fighting the state and county boards of elections subpoenas — per a unanimous vote by the State Board to quash the documents — and it’s not yet clear what the DMV plans to do with regard to its request.
The information requested could compromise North Carolina voters’ privacy and the letter sent by civil rights organizations to the Department of Justice highlights that concern.
“The extremely broad and unprecedented subpoenas extend far beyond the scope of any legitimate law enforcement objective and threaten voters’ constitutional right to cast a ballot free from fear and intimidation as well as their expectation that their personally identifiable information … and their voting preferences will remain private in accordance with the law,” it states. “Further, given the massive redactions necessary to avoid complete disregard for voters’ rights and the law, responding to these ICE Subpoenas would interfere with the duties of North Carolina’s election officials at any point in any election cycle.”
The letter goes on to make four main points about why the subpoenas should be withdrawn altogether: they target people of color, immigrants and low income communities; they seek voter information that must remain protected; they have already interfered with the upcoming elections; and the U.S. Attorney should not use grand jury proceedings as fishing expeditions.
Read the full letter below. One of the organizations that signed on to the letter, the North Carolina Justice Center, is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.