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Elections board directs counties to turn over data on hundreds of NC voters in federal probe

May 6, 2019

After a three-month wait, state elections officials have now told a small group of counties how to identify and turn over data on hundreds of North Carolina voters targeted by federal investigators in a secretive election fraud probe.

The State Board of Elections issued guidance late in the afternoon on Friday to 32 county elections boards with instructions on how to pull voting histories, signed poll books and redacted ballots dating back several election cycles, a response to subpoenas issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina in August 2018.

While a memo from the state board in February said the agency needed data on 289 people across dozens of counties in the eastern part of the state, last week’s guidance added few public clues about the identities of those voters. County elections staffers, the instructions said, could only access that information through a secure server.

“We are advised by the Attorney General’s Office that the County must avoid any disclosure that could reveal the identity of the registrant(s) transmitted,” the email to counties from State Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said.

Aside from the data provided by the counties, the state elections board said in February it also planned to hand over voter registration records on an additional 500 people outside the Eastern District.

That is a far cry from the millions of records – including ballots themselves – originally demanded in subpoenas from the office of Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon two months before the 2018 midterms. Higdon’s office backed off that demand days after issuing the subpoenas, following pushback over the scope of the request and its potential threats to voter privacy. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office also clarified they would accept redacted ballots.

Little is publicly known about the investigation or the 789 voters referenced in State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach’s February letter, and the U.S. Attorney’s office has so far declined to comment.

The office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein referred questions to the State Board of Elections, which asked him earlier this year to intervene in the case to block the demand for data.

Lawson said via Monday morning that the State Board of Elections “is not able presently to supply additional comment regarding the contents” of his May 3 instructions to counties.

As they were issued on Aug. 31, the federal subpoenas requested registration applications from foreign-born and non-English speakers, and listed the names of a prosecutor and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent involved in other voter fraud cases against foreign nationals.

As for which 289 voters in the state’s Eastern District counties – or the 500 others elsewhere across the state – are the target of the demand for records, state elections officials haven’t revealed many details.

Strach’s February memo specified that most of those registered voters targeted in the federal probe have been inactive since 2017, meaning they hadn’t voted in the last several election cycles.

To comply with the State Board of Elections’ instructions, county elections staffers must track down, redact and digitize documents on the targeted voters in any election from January 2013 to August 2018.

Lawson’s email didn’t provide a deadline, but some election boards expected to turn over the information in the coming days.

“From what they’ve asked for, we’re going to be able to comply with that fairly quickly,” Harnett County Elections Director Claire Jones said Monday morning.

Nash County Elections Director John Kearney said he had six names on his list, which he said is manageable enough to provide by the end of the week.

“It was much better than the original demand – which was everything,” Kearney said.