Justice Department Issues Subpoena To NC Elections Board For 9th District Probe

Mar 12, 2019

The U.S. Justice Department issued a subpoena last week to the North Carolina Board of Elections, asking for "all documents related to the investigation of election irregularities" in the 9th Congressional District investigation.

The March 6 subpoena said the Justice Department will be convening a grand jury April 16-18 in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The Justice Department issued a subpoena last week to the North Carolina Board of Elections.
Credit North Carolina Board of Elections

In January 2017, the elections board forwarded an investigative file to state and federal prosecutors on the possibility of illegal absentee mail ballot collection in Bladen County by political operative McCrae Dowless. But the elections board became frustrated that the state and the federal government didn't act on its investigation, which had statements from Dowless employees saying they illegally collected ballots on his instructions.

In the fall of 2018, Robert Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina appointed by President Trump, issued a massive subpoena to 44 N.C. counties, demanding millions of elections documents. That subpoena was part of a probe of non-citizens voting, and 19 people were charged with illegally voting in past elections.

[Related: What You Need To Know About The 9th District]

But Higdon apparently did not focus on absentee mail voting, even after being sent information from the board of elections.

This subpoena was issued by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington D.C. - not Higdon's office.

In late November, the elections board voted 9-0 not to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Last month, the elections board held a public evidentiary hearing on that election, which included testimony from Dowless employees that they illegally collected absentee mail ballots on behalf of Harris.

The board voted to hold a new election.

A week later, Dowless and four others were indicted by a Wake County grand jury convened by Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. Dowless was charged with several felonies, including possession of an absentee mail ballot and obstruction of justice. Those charges stemmed from the 2016 general election, as well as the 2018 primary in May.

Last week, the elections board began sending Freeman its investigative file from the November 2018 election. Freeman said it will take between two and three months to decide if additional charges should be filed. She said it's possible that people who financed Dowless could be charged if there is evidence they were aware of him breaking the law.

In a statement released by the elections board Tuesday, Kim Strach, the board's executive director, said, "We support the efforts of state and federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes against the elections process. State Board staff are compiling records responsive to the federal grand jury subpoena and are prepared to assist federal and state prosecutors in their investigations. We hope that prosecutions in these cases will help restore voters’ confidence in our elections and serve as a strong deterrent to future elections fraud."