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Social justice groups protest DOJ voting records subpoena

voter registration
Ricky Leung (left) asks UNC student Samantha Mndello (right) to register to vote for the 2018 election in the Pit on Monday, Sept. 24.

Ten Southern civil rights groups sent a letter on Sept. 26 to the U.S. Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement protesting the Department's request for North Carolina voting records.

ICE and the DOJ asked in late August for eastern counties in North Carolina to turn over eight years of voter registration records from 2010 through 2018.

The organizations that sent the letter urging the withdrawal of the subpoenas include the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Democracy North Carolina and the ACLU.

"On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write to strongly request that your agencies immediately cease efforts to subpoena millions of North Carolina voter records in what we believe is an unjustified and likely unlawful fishing expedition," the letter said.

The subpoena, which N.C. Board of Elections made public, mandates the state to produce all voter registration applications and related documents between Jan. 1, 2010 and Aug. 30, 2018.

The documents include federal write-in absentee ballots, early voting application forms, provisional voting forms, admission or denial of non-citizen return forms and voter cancellation or revocation forms. 

A separate subpoena was also sent to the Pitt County Board of Elections. Requests of the subpoena included all ballots, voting records and voter authorization documents between Aug. 30, 2013 and Aug. 30, 2018.

“Right now, our estimates are in excess of two million documents of various sizes, some of them up to 17 inches long, when you’re talking about ballots," said Gary Sims, the director of the Wake County Board of Elections. "It is very difficult to give a true assessment of time. It’s more than just getting copies, it’s then having to redact confidential information."

Jen Jones, director of communications at Democracy North Carolina, said the exhaustive amount of documentation requested is a source of worry for a state weeks away from beginning absentee voting and early voting.

“To comply with those requests, it would have made it incredibly difficult for county officials to prepare for the elections, especially in light of what happened with Hurricane Florence just a few weeks after the request. It wasn’t just us that pushed back," Jones said. "We believe that it was designed to interfere with our state’s elections on one hand, and on the other, to intimidate voters.”

The eastern district of North Carolina accounts for the 40 counties that were initially governed by section five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Prior to this part of legislation being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013, this section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected Black voters and made it possible for Black candidates to be elected to office. 

Jones said this adds even more importance to being aware of the possible consequences of voting restrictions.

“We are always mindful when there are these kinds of excessive requests from the federal government toward our eastern counties about what the intention is," Jones said. "Especially given the close proximity to an actual election that has been squeezed already by early voting mandates from the legislature and changes in what will be on the ballot based on the new constitutional amendments."

Jones said this is not the first time pressure has been placed upon states and local election boards to alter voting processes. 

“We are faced with yet another attempt to put our election officials under pressure and put voters in the hotspot as well, by not only intimidating them with these requests, but also potentially giving (the U.S. government) sensitive voter information," she said. 

Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the N.C. State Board of Elections, said the U.S. Attorney General's Office has extended the deadline to after the election.

"We encourage all individuals eligible to register and vote to do so in this and every election," Gannon said.


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