North Carolina’s state board of elections and 44 counties will not have to turn over voting records until after the November elections and will be able to redact any information on how someone voted, an assistant U.S. attorney said in a letter to the state board on Thursday.
The letter comes less than a week after a federal prosecutor’s office, at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, subpoenaed extensive voting records from the state board of elections and the board of elections from 44 counties, including Wake, in the eastern part of the state. They demanded the records, including state records on all 100 counties, by Sept. 25.
The state board said its subpoenas would encompass more than 15 million documents, while the county subpoenas would produce more than 2.3 million ballots “traceable” to a voter, causing alarm among interest groups, members of Congress and voters.
Sebastian Kielmanovich, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, wrote in the letter that his office is not seeking any voters’ preferences.
“We ask that the actual vote information be redacted, to the greatest extent possible. In other words, we want to prevent disclosure of any voter’s actual choice of candidates in any race. That specific information is not relevant to our inquiry,” he wrote.
Noting the difficulty in complying with the request while also conducting elections, Kielmanovich, wrote that “we can postpone compliance until January 2019” as long as the state board is willing to preserve the subpoenaed documents. He wrote that the timing of the subpoenas was “designed to avoid the possible destruction of documents under state law and Board of Elections procedures.”
Kielmanovich also said his office was “willing to discuss the scope of the subpoenas and work with you to determine whether that scope can be narrowed to ensure compliance while limiting production to those documents which are most relevant to the inquiry.”
The documents will not have to be delivered all at once, wrote Kielmanovich.
“We are also willing to agree to compliance with the subpoena on a rolling basis to allow for the effort and work which will be necessary to comply with the request,” he wrote.
The state board is scheduled to meet Friday at 10 a.m.
“Apart from the political undertones of this request, it’s going to really interfere with the ability of election officials at their busiest time to prepare for the upcoming elections,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC-Irvine and publisher of the influential Election Law blog, said before the decision to delay.
After the letter came out, Hasen tweeted: “This is the right call, and shows some good faith on the part of prosecutors. Even if there is a legitimate reason to investigate voter fraud issues in North Carolina (there could be), it should not be done to interfere with the busiest time in gearing up for elections.”
Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield and David Price issued a statement earlier Thursday, calling the request “alarming and unprecedented” and calling on House committees to investigate. The congressmen said the Justice Department should “rescind their subpoena immediately.”