ICE orders Board of Elections to turn over 5 years of records

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Beaufort County’s voting records for the past five years have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The request by ICE to turn over the records was faxed late Friday afternoon, according to Kellie Harris Hopkins, director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections. Forty-three other eastern North Carolina Boards of Election were issued the same.

“I know what they’re asking for, but I have no idea why they are asking for it,” Hopkins said.

According to Bryan Cox, ICE’s southern region communications director, the subpoenaed records are part of an investigation into voter fraud in eastern North Carolina. Cox confirmed an ongoing ICE investigation that resulted in the Aug. 24 indictments of 19 foreign nationals, each charged with falsifying claims of U.S. citizenship in order to vote during the 2016 election. The cases are being investigated by the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, a joint task force including the Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement–Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement Removal Operations and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

“All of the persons that were indicted in that investigation have been confined in the Eastern District of North Carolina,” Cox said.

However, that does not explain the breadth of the request, according to Hopkins. The requested documents include: “Any and all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents and executed officials ballots (including absentee official ballots), that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by the Beaufort County Board of Elections from August 30, 2013 through August 30, 2018,” the ICE fax reads.

The deadline for the delivery of the records is Sept. 25 at 8 a.m. at U.S. District Court in Wilmington. Hopkins said an enormous amount of work would be required to fulfill the order.

“I have a staff of two, including myself,” Hopkins said. “This is will be hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper that will need to be scanned.”

She said the elections process has already been hindered this year by lawsuits involving redistricting and whether two of six constitutional amendments proposed by state legislators will make it on the ballot. But until the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office rules on the amendments, boards of election across the state will not have ballots at all.

“The state deadline is Friday for sending out ballots for overseas absentee voting. There’s no way we’re going to make that. Now, we’re falling back on the federal Uniformed and Overseas Voting Act — the federal deadline is Sept. 22. We have to have ballots out on the 21st. We’re already behind, and to have this thrown on us? This is a gigantic information request,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said she has consulted the Board’s attorney to find out if the ICE deadline can be extended.

“We have not started the process yet, because we’re trying to figure out what we can do,” Hopkins said.

According to another local attorney, the law states that records requested by subpoena may be submitted in the manner in which they are kept. The Beaufort County Board of Elections keeps hard copies of all the documents requested.

ICE Special Agent Jahaira Torrens, listed as the contact on the ICE fax, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, declined to comment for this article.