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@NCCapitol

Elections officials to hand federal investigators data on hundreds of NC voters

Posted February 6, 2019 4:52 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2019 5:34 p.m. EST

Voters cast ballots at the Wake County Commons Building in the North Carolina primary on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Jamie Munden)

— The State Board of Elections says it will supply registration records for nearly 800 North Carolina voters in response to a subpoena from U.S. attorneys, part of a secretive federal election fraud probe that cast a net across millions of voters statewide last fall.

In a memo sent to county election boards Wednesday afternoon, election officials said the state Attorney General's Office directed them to provide records on 289 voters previously registered in eastern North Carolina counties, as well as 500 others in counties across the state.

It's unclear who those 789 voters are or why federal investigators are interested in them.

State elections officials declined to comment Wednesday, as did the office of U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon, where the subpoenas originated.

But in a statement, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said that, while he supports efforts to combat elections fraud, the subpoenas "were overbroad and highly burdensome to the state agencies."

The state has pushed back since last fall against the subpoenas, which originally demanded years' worth of registration and voting data on nearly 7 million North Carolina voters just six weeks before the November election.

After election officials balked at the burden such a subpoena would create, federal investigators agreed to delay the deadline. After that deadline came and went last month, state elections board officials said they hadn't yet responded to the demand for data. Meanwhile, the Wednesday memo noted, the state board requested in the fall that the Attorney General's Office "take steps necessary to quash the subpoenas."

The U.S. Attorney's Office has declined to comment on the scope of the investigation or the subpoenas, which requested registration applications from foreign-born voters and non-English speakers, among other things. They also listed the names of a federal prosecutor and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent involved in an August case that resulted in federal charges against 20 foreign nationals in connection with voting fraud.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that all but one of those charged in the sweep were legal residents – and that none so far have faced jail time.

The memo sent to county boards Wednesday provides little detail on which registered voters, specifically, are the target of the data request. The Eastern District under Higdon's jurisdiction is made up of 44 counties, and the narrowed demand in part seeks records for 289 voters previously registered there.

But the memo notes that two-thirds of those targeted voters were inactive as of 2017. And half of the counties in the Eastern District have five or fewer of the registered voters in question. In 10 counties, there are none at all.

State elections officials plan to follow up with additional instructions for each Eastern District county, a list that includes Wake.

"We'll comply completely with whatever directive we receive," Wake County Elections Director Gary Sims said Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the state has been embroiled in a separate investigation by the State Board of Elections over absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District. That probe has put the certification of the 2018 election results in the district, where Republican Mark Harris led his Democratic opponent by 905 votes, on hold.

Records show state elections board investigators reached out to Higdon's office in June and October 2018 with concerns about those absentee ballot irregularities. It's unclear how Higdon's office responded.

In his statement Wednesday afternoon, Stein indicated the production of records from the 789 voters will be enough to satisfy federal investigators.

"I look forward to this issue being resolved soon so that state and federal officials can focus on investigating the alleged election fraud in the 9th Congressional District," the statement read.