North Carolina challenges 'unreasonable'
U.S. subpoenas for voter data
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[September 08, 2018]
By Suzannah Gonzales
(Reuters) - North Carolina's elections
board voted on Friday to challenge federal subpoenas seeking years'
worth of voter information from state and local officials, saying the
timing, scope and unknown nature of the inquiry were cause for concern.
The U.S. Justice Department on Aug. 31 issued the subpoenas on behalf of
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the state board and as many
as 44 county elections boards in eastern North Carolina.
The demand was "overly broad, unreasonable, vague, and clearly impacts
significant interests of our voters," said Joshua Malcolm, vice chairman
of the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement.
"This Board will ... 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,"
Malcolm said before Friday's vote during a telephone meeting of the
bipartisan board. A transcript of the vote was posted online by the
state elections board.
Voting-rights issues have drawn heightened scrutiny across the United
States in a congressional election year when Democrats are fighting to
regain power in various states and at the national level.
The North Carolina board voted unanimously to authorize the state
attorney general's office to take steps to quash the subpoenas. In a
Friday letter, a state assistant attorney general asked a federal
prosecutor to withdraw the subpoenas immediately.
Local media said the subpoenas could be connected to a case in the
district involving 19 foreign nationals charged last month with
illegally voting before and on Nov. 8, 2016. The U.S. Attorney's Office
for the Eastern District of North Carolina declined to comment on what
prompted the subpoenas and the vote.
The federal government is seeking documents dating back to 2010
including voter registration application information, forms that voters
sign at polling places before casting ballots, records declaring U.S.
citizenship and official ballots.
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People cast their ballots for the 2016 general elections at a
crowded polling station as early voting begins in Carrboro, North
Carolina, U.S., October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo
Complying with the subpoenas would mean producing more than 15
million documents from the state board and about 5.6 million ballots
from the counties, state elections board spokesman Patrick Gannon
said in an email.
"We do not know the impetus behind these subpoenas," he said.
In a letter on Thursday, a federal prosecutor told state elections
board lawyer Joshua Lawson that voters' actual choice of candidates
were not relevant to the inquiry and should be redacted as much as
possible. The letter was posted online by the state elections board.
The Justice Department initially requested the documents by Sept.
25, prompting criticism from elections officials who said the demand
was ill-timed as they are busy preparing for the Nov. 6 elections.
Federal authorities then said this week they were willing to
postpone the deadline until January, provided the elections board
vowed to preserve the subpoenaed documents.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Colleen
Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)
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