North Carolina officials on Friday authorized the state Attorney General’s Office “to take any and all necessary steps to quash” subpoenas issued by the U.S. Justice Department to boards of elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s federal Eastern District last week.
In other words, the state will not cooperate with the Trump administration’s demand, made two months before the midterm elections.
“The subpoena we’ve received was and remains overly broad, unreasonable, vague, and clearly impacts significant interests of our voters,” Joshua Malcolm, vice chairman of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said during a Friday press call. “To be clear, it’s my belief this Board stands ready to assist any appropriate federal/state law enforcement/prosecutorial agency in pursuit of any suspected illegal activity involving the voting process. But, this Board will, as required by our fiduciary responsibilities as state election officials, not stand idly by and consent to any agency attempting to obtain records and documents that violate the principles of overreach by the federal government, as in this circumstance.”
Prior to the board’s unanimous decision to authorize the Attorney General’s Office to quash the grand jury subpoenas, the U.S. Attorney’s Office attempted to negotiate a new deadline for the data, extending it from September 25 to January 2019.
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On a public conference call Friday related to the subpoenas, which were issued on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Andy Penry, chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said the state board first received notice of the grand jury subpoenas via fax from the U.S. attorney general on August 31 at 5 p.m, prior to Labor Day weekend. In receiving the notice via fax, it is “not clear as to whether we’ve actually been served with it in the manner required by the rules,” Penry said. Prior to the fax, county boards had been subpoenaed and had called the state board, wondering if the Justice Department subpoenas were “legitimate or whether it was a fake effort to obtain voter information.”
The 44 counties received the subpoenas in various ways, Penry explained, “some were served, we believe, in accordance with the applicable rules” and others may not have been. Some were notified, but still have not been officially served.
Of the 15 million documents requested by the Justice Department, some were public information, Penry said, which means the subpoenas were unnecessary. Some of the information ICE is seeking “would disclose very confidential information about the voters, including what their ballots actually looked like,” Penry said on the call. The requests would have compromised the privacy of more than 2.2 million voters, as NC Policy Watch reported.
“We have not been given a reason as to why ICE wants that information, and candidly, I can’t think of any reason for it,” Penry said.
Prior to the board’s announcement that it would not comply with the Trump administration’s request, Reps. David Price (D-NC) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) issued a joint statement calling the subpoenas an “alarming and unprecedented request from President Trump’s Department of Justice” and ICE.
“In these subpoenas, ICE has failed to demonstrate its legal authority to request voting records and to reveal the rationale for the production of this information. This massive request of voter data seems clearly designed to disenfranchise and intimidate voters and to disrupt the administration of an impending election with major state and national implications,” the statement said.