As election subpoena deadline extended, Butterfield calls for federal probe

Sep 7, 2018
In The News

As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Thursday agreed conditionally to extend the deadline for 44 boards of election across the eastern part of the state to turn in documents requested in a federal subpoena, United States Congressman G.K. Butterfield and other Democratic lawmakers called for an investigation into the matter.

Butterfield was joined in the request for an investigation by David Price , Alma Adams, Committee on House Administration ranking member Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Homeland Security Commitee ranking member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler of New York.   

Butterfield letter

In the letter, which is attached as a PDF at the end of this story, the lawmakers request the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement  “to promptly undertake an investigation to determine the legal implications of and rationale for these subpoenas.”

In the letter the members write: “These subpoenas are overly broad, request private voter information, and appear to target voters of color. Accordingly, we respectfully request that you undertake an investigation to examine the circumstances by which these subpoenas were issued, the scope of the subpoenas, and the seemingly political motivations behind them.”

The lawmakers contend President Trump “has continually repeated false claims regarding widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election,” leading to the creation of his Advisory Commission on Election Integrity that “was disbanded in January after being the subject of endless controversy and litigation.”  

Despite this, a press statement says, “President Trump subsequently charged the Department of Homeland Security to continue investigating the myth of widespread voter fraud.  This document request by ICE appears to pick up where the Commission left off and seeks to use allegations of widespread voter fraud to justify voter suppression and intimation practices.”

The letter concludes: “Given what we know about the scope of the subpoenas, and the counties that were targeted, we strongly suspect that this is part of the Trump administration’s dangerous and anti-democratic strategy of voter suppression and intimidation to limit equal access to the ballot box.”

Specifically, the members request the Inspectors General begin an investigation that considers the following questions:

What motivated the request for these documents?

How was this particular set of records chosen for the subpoena?

Was there any consideration of whether the request was overly broad?

Do the subpoenas violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process or any other constitutional provision?

Do the subpoenas violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993?

Do the subpoenas violate North Carolina law?

Why was the deadline initially set for September 25, less than two months before an election?

Why was the deadline moved to after the November election?

Does this action have any precedent?

Is DHS planning to make similar requests in other states?

Is DHS following President Trump’s directive to investigate widespread voter fraud?

Are these subpoenas related to the DHS’ work following the President’s directive to investigate widespread voter fraud?

Is ICE planning to use voter data to initiate deportation proceedings?

Did DOJ and DHS follow all relevant laws and guidance, including the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, in issuing the subpoenas, and was there a less intrusive method that the agencies rejected?

Was there a reasonable evidential basis for the scope of the subpoenas?

If the agencies obtain the requested records, do they have appropriate plans to limit the use of these records to the state purpose of the grand jury subpoenas and ensure their secure storage?

Compliance postponed

Meanwhile on Thursday evening, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners sent out an email to board members and county managers about a letter written by Assistant United States Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich which was copied to the 44 boards of elections across eastern North Carolina and includes the following developments:

If the boards agree to preserve requested documents, the U.S. Attorney’s office will postpone compliance with subpoenas until January.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is willing to discuss narrowing the scope of the subpoenas to documents relevant to the inquiry.

The U.S. Attorney’s office wants to prevent disclosure of any voter’s actual choice of candidates in any race, so redaction of particular documents will be necessary.

Kevin Leonard, executive director of the association, sent out an email to commissioners and county managers stating: “The news media is covering this issue in detail, and there are many facts and quotes we could reference to fully describe the unprecedented nature of this request. “A main concern, however, for the Association and our counties is the extraordinary administrative and financial burden this request places on the affected counties. For example, the Association understands that for an average county to respond, it would take elections office staff an inordinate amount of time to gather the requested documents.

“And, this work will need to happen during a very busy time of year for our elections office, which will divert attention away from the implementation of the general election processes and procedures scheduled for November 2018.”

Assistant United States attorney letter

In his letter to Joshua Lawson, general counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Kielmanovich wrote the subpoenas were served on behalf of the federal grand jury on a timetable designed to avoid the possible destruction of documents under state law and Board of Elections procedures.  

“In  our conversations  you noted the difficulty  that Boards of Elections may  have in responding to the subpoenas by the deadline set in those subpoenas due to the press of business as final preparations are made for the upcoming November election.”

Kielmanovich wrote: “We understand and appreciate that concern and want to do nothing to impede those preparations or to affect participation in or the outcome of those elections.  As such, provided the Board of Elections is willing to agree to the preservation of the subpoenaed documents as set forth in the attached preservation agreement, we are willing to extend the deadline for compliance until well after the upcoming election cycle is completed and the elected officials take office.”


Kielmanovich notes pursuant to the preservation of the requested documents, the government can postpone compliance until January. “Consistent with our normal practice, we are willing to discuss the scope of the subpoenas and work with you to determine whether that scope can be narrowed to ensure compliance while limiting production to those documents which are most relevant to the inquiry.”

The assistant federal attorney also wrote “we want to protect the confidentiality of any cast ballot that is provided. Therefore, to the extent ballots are produced, we ask that the actual vote information be redacted, to the greatest extent possible.”