The North Carolina Board of Elections 9-0 vote last week to fight a wide-ranging subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department was a rare moment of bipartisanship in the state, with Republicans saying the federal government overreached in an apparent effort to fight voter fraud.
The board’s four Republicans voted with the four Democratic members and one unaffiliated member.
The U.S. Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have asked for more than 20 million election documents and ballots, from 2010.
The subpoena asked for about 2.3 million absentee ballots from the last five years. Absentee ballots – which were mostly cast during early voting – are traceable to the voter. That means the federal government could have determined how people voted.
“We wanted to make sure we protect the secret ballot,” said Stacy Eggers, a Republican board member from Watauga County. “This wasn’t a Republican-Democrat matter. It was a bipartisan matter.”
Some Democratic politicians have criticized the subpoena as politically motivated.
Democrat Alma Adams, Charlotte’s Congressional representative from the 12 District, said in a statement that it was a “clearly a coordinated effort by the Trump Administration to intimidate and disenfranchise voters from exercising their fundamental right.”
The Southern Coalition for Justice called the subpoenas a “fishing expedition.”
Republican Board of Elections member John Lewis, of Mount Pleasant near Charlotte, said he agrees with the fishing expedition claim.
“It’s probably a fishing expedition,” Lewis said. “I don’t necessarily have a problem going after voter fraud. I don’t believe it’s not as widespread as some believe, but it’s more prevalent than others contend. But the Eastern District needed to do a better job in drafting their subpoena and tailoring it towards what they needed.”
But Lewis said he doesn’t believe the subpoenas would intimidate voters leading up to the Nov. 6 election. He also said he believes the subpoenas were issued in part to prevent the state and counties from destroying some of the documents, as part of a routine schedule to purge records.
The Justice Department last week said the state and 44 North Carolina counties could have an additional three months to fulfill the subpoena. The documents were originally due by the end of the September.
It also said the Board of Elections could black out information on absentee ballots that would show how someone voted.
The Justice Department has also issued a subpoena to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles seeking eight years of documents, including voter registration forms in which someone’s birthplace was outside the United States; forms in which the person did not have a social security card or a driver’s license; and forms in which the person used an North Carolina ID and not a driver’s license.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation said Tuesday that its attorneys are reviewing the subpoena, and that the state's attorney general's office is representing the department.
The DMV and Board of Elections subpoenas appear related to an earlier investigation into non-citizens voting in the 2016 election.