Federal officials are demanding millions of voting documents from North Carolina in hopes of furthering an existing case that accused 19 non-citizens of voting illegally in 2016, CNN reported Wednesday.
The subpoena seeks copies of all voter registrations filed from 2010 to 2018 statewide. A second seeks voting records in Pitt County from 2013 through 2018. Together, the subpoenas would generate upwards of 15 million individual documents — including 2.2 million cast ballots that could be traced to specific voters.
Federal prosecutors charged nine people with lying about their citizenship in order to vote and 10 others with lesser illegal voting charges in August. Their alleged criminal conduct ranges from knowingly voting after fraudulently obtaining citizenship in one case to casting votes after having legal permanent residence status for years in nine of the cases.
The latter, larger subset of the charges is akin to the high-profile conviction of a green card holder in Texas, Rosa Maria Ortega, who voted in multiple elections because she didn’t know she couldn’t and had lived in the U.S. nearly all her life. “Ms. Ortega, who has a seventh-grade education and a sometimes shaky grasp on the complexities of her life, has steadfastly insisted that she did not know she was violating the law — that she is being imprisoned and probably deported for the crime of being confused,” the New York Times reported after her conviction.
The North Carolina cases come after state officials reported last year that roughly 500 of the 4.8 million ballots cast there in 2016 traced to people who couldn’t legally vote. “The report did not include any evidence of fraud, and many of those who voted claimed to be confused about their eligibility,” according to local news station WRAL.
The Trump administration’s decision to seek the stiffest possible criminal penalties for illegal voting — even the inadvertent, good-faith mistake kind that Ortega says got her caught up and which matches several of the defendants in the North Carolina indictment — is consistent with its broader crackdown on any glimmer of doubt about a person’s legal status or citizenship. The White House has revoked passports from hundreds of citizens born near the Texas-Mexico border, the Washington Post reported last week, based only on a handful of cases where midwives have admitted falsifying the birthplace of babies born south of the Rio Grande.
“In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings,” the Post report said. Unless a person whose birth was attended by one of the midwives who’s admitted doctoring a few birth certificates here and there can prove through other documentation that their birth papers are accurate, the Trump government is presuming them to be foreign born and tossing them into the president’s streamlined deportation machine.
The North Carolina subpoenas also illustrate the administration’s ongoing desire to substantiate Trump’s repeated and mathematically absurd assertions that millions of votes cast in 2016 were illegal. The president spent significant energy early in his term railing about supposed millions of illegally-cast ballots in response to frequent observations that he’d won the electoral college despite receiving roughly 3 million fewer total votes than Hillary Clinton.
Voter fraud, like opportunities to see Halley’s comet with the naked eye, is a rare phenomenon that occasionally happens. For decades before Trump’s ruinous rise to power, mainline GOP operatives pretended that fraudulent voting is far more common than it is in order to justify mass purges of voter roles in places that tend heavily Democratic. The supposed scourge of fraudulent voting is still invoked in support of stringent voter ID requirements — in North Carolina and elsewhere — whose primary effect is to disenfranchise people too poor to easily obtain a state credential. In some cases, Republican operatives are open about their real objective: dampening Democratic voter turnout.
As with other lingering phantoms of the conservative mind, Trump’s ascent has juiced the vote-fraud panic into a much larger, more powerful, and more undemocratic form — even though the GOP’s successful suppression of legitimate voters in Democrat-leaning cities and states helped him win his office in the first place.
The news that one vote in every 10,000 cast in a state Trump won appeared to have been illegitimate — and that nearly all of those mistakenly tallied ballots were cast by people whose criminal records still barred them from voting — does not change the fundamental math of the right-wing voter fraud obsession, even if it makes a fool of anyone who responded to that fever-dream by insisting there’s never any illegitimate voting.