Federal prosecutors have announced an end to a sweeping, four-year-long investigation into voter fraud in North Carolina, peeling back a veil of secrecy from a probe that pitted state and federal officials against each other over a massive demand for data on every one of the state’s registered voters.
The effort initiated by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District resulted in a range of charges related to immigration, registration and election rules against about 70 people — more than 40 of whom were accused of casting ballots illegally. Dates of those charges, which involved activity during the 2016 election and prior, range from July 2018 to mid-February 2021.
Many of the latest indictments were announced for the first time Friday, but the totals fall far short of early suggestions by the federal government of “pervasive” or “systemic” fraud, suspicions the U.S. Attorney’s Office put before a federal judge in an effort to keep details of its inquiry secret for years.
Hundreds of pages of now unsealed court files — which WRAL News, The News & Observer and other media outlets fought in court for more than than a year to obtain — shed light on the contentious relationship State Board of Elections officials had with federal investigators from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The two sides repeatedly accused each other of either sabotage or incompetence, the court records show.
The filings also illustrate a shift in priorities for the then newly installed Trump Department of Justice, which grew increasingly focused on bringing criminal charges for voting irregularities among noncitizens. State officials, who relied on federal citizenship data for voter list maintenance, discovered that what once was a routine process could now spawn wide-ranging criminal investigations.
The fight wasn’t a partisan one.
Most of the back and forth came under U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Robert Higdon, an appointee of Republican President Donald Trump. The state’s election director for much of the DOJ’s probe was Kim Strach, named to the job during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s tenure. And the agency’s attorney was Josh Lawson, who previously worked in President George W. Bush’s administration.