Boards of Elections ordered to preserve documents

Published 7:42 pm Thursday, September 27, 2018

Boards of Elections in 44 counties in eastern North Carolina are still on hold regarding turning over hundreds of thousands of voter documents to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Investigation. They are, however, instructed not to destroy any of those documents before the situation resolves itself in court.

“They’re pretty much asking us just not to destroy documents,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County Board of Elections director.

On the afternoon of Aug. 31 — a Friday — Beaufort County Board of Elections received the Eastern District Office-issued subpoena by fax, but didn’t see it on the fax machine until Tuesday, Sept. 3, as staff had Labor Day Monday off. The subpoena required a list of voter documents turned over to the Eastern District Office in court on Sept. 25, in Wilmington, a near impossible task, Hopkins said at the time.

The next Friday, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted unanimously to engage the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to represent the board and every board of election subpoenaed, stating the subpoena was “overly broad, unreasonable, vague, and clearly impacts significant interests of our voters” and that it violated “the principles of overreach by the federal government.”

ICE PIO Bryan Cox explained the subpoena is part of an ongoing investigation into foreign nationals claiming U.S. citizenship in order to vote in the 2016 election — in eastern North Carolina, 19 non-citizens were charged Aug. 24 with voting illegally.

The concern with the document demand is that the documents requested have confidential information about all voters, including ballots.

While the U.S. Attorney’s Office backed off the initial timeline, offering to extend it to January, boards of elections have been ordered to take no action by the State Board of Election. A memo pointed this out, as well as which documents cannot be destroyed until the issue is resolved.

“A number of key terms in the below descriptions are exceedingly vague. Out of an abundance of caution, when in doubt, do not delete, alter, or destroy any document  that may reasonably fall within any descriptions below,” reads the memo from the State Board of Elections. The memo goes on to list documents required by the original subpoena, which are “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,” in addition to the following: Standard Voter Registration Application forms; Federal Post Card Applications (FPCA); Federal Write-In-Absentee Ballots (FWAB); One-Stop (Early Voting) application forms; Provisional Voting forms; N.C. Absentee Ballot Request forms; any and all “Admission or Denial of Non-Citizen Return Form” that were generated by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, or were caused to be generated by the North Carolina Board of Elections, and/or the Ethics Enforcement Office; any and all Voter Registration Cancellation or Voter Revocation forms that have been generated by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and/or the Ethics Enforcement Office.

For small Boards of Elections such as Beaufort County facing hundreds of manhours to scan the list of documents, the respite came as welcome news before the election.

“We don’t have to do anything, so we’re just kind of sitting back and waiting for them to tell us what’s going on,” Hopkins said.