Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to sift through millions of voter records in an apparent “fishing exhibition” after subpoenaing poll books, voting records, and executed ballots last week.

Assistant U.S. attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich issued the subpoenas Thursday to forty-four counties in North Carolina’s federal Eastern District, including Wake County. The probe spans five years, including all “poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, and executed official ballots (including absentee ballots)” from August 30, 2013, through August 30, 2018. The DOJ wants the documents by September 25—three weeks before early voting begins—according to documents posted by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

A subpoena to the state elections board seeks even more information, requests documents going back to January 2010, including voter registration and early voting application forms, absentee ballot request forms, “any and all ‘admission or denial of non-citizen return forms” and records of any voter registration canceled or revoked by the board.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is planning a teleconference to address the subpoenas Friday morning. The Eastern District declined to comment on the requests.

“The subpoenas faxed to county boards are the most exhaustive on record,” Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement wrote Tuesday to Assistant U.S. Attorney
Sebastian Kielmanovich. “In our view, compliance with the subpoena as-written will materially affect the ability of county administrators to perform time-critical tasks ahead of absentee voting and early voting. We are not, however, counsel to individual county boards and are not authorized to make requests on their behalf.”

A preliminary query by the state board estimates 2.2 million ballots can be traced back to early voters in the forty-four counties during the period requested, and another 3.3 million ballots cast on Election Day can’t be traced to individual voters.

The request for eight years of records from the state would require more than 15 million documents and images, the state board said.

Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the General Assembly, says the “depth of the request indicates [a] fishing expedition.”

“What will they do with millions of ballots?” Cohen asks.

The Department of Justice charged nineteen Eastern District residents with illegally voting last month. The state had previously declined to prosecute eligible voters from the 2016 election; however, the recent prosecutions and subpoenas indicate that efforts “to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of ‘voter fraud’ may be replicated on a much larger scale,” according to a statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” SCSJ interim executive director Kareem Crayton said in a statement. “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern. We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox was tight-lipped about the probe, saying he is “not able to discuss the details of an ongoing federal investigation.” He referred the INDY to an August 27 press release about indictments against the nineteen individuals for voting illegally.

Oftentimes, non-citizens and undocumented people are mistakenly or unknowingly registered to vote through a third-party agency helping them with immigration proceedings without fully realizing the legal ramifications, says Viridiana Martinez, director of immigrant advocacy group Alerta Migratoria. Registering to vote without actually voting is still a federal crime, she adds.

“There’s no malintent in it,” Martinez says. “I think whoever has the power—individuals, counties, or at the state level—has to say there’s no need to give out these records. They need to do that or else the state of North Carolina is being compliant in the deportations that will come.”

Wake County commissioner John Burns expressed concern about the strain the request would put on elections staff in a letter to the U.S. Attorney to the Eastern District of North Carolina today, and asking for “an explanation for the scope and timing of this extraordinary request.

“More importantly, perhaps, I write to let you know that this investigation launched 60 days prior to a general election of monumental importance and with Constitutional implications, risks being viewed by the public as a partisan effort to interfere with the vote,” Burns wrote. “Knowing you I know this is highly unlikely to be the case. However, the risk of that perception, which would be as dangerous to public confidence in the integrity of our elections as an actual such effort, requires transparency and forthrightness with the public.”
This story will be updated as it develops.