State Board of Elections settles suit over foreign voter records

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, poses for a picture while working at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. While the state Court of Appeals ordered the temporary delay of candidate filing for General Assembly and U.S. House seats due to redistricting litigation, candidate filing for other 2022 races began as scheduled at noon. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson)

RALEIGH — On the last day of January, a settlement was reached involving the disclosure of records pertaining to foreigners registering and voting in the state of North Carolina. 

The lawsuit was filed in June 2019 by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) against the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) and its director, Karen Brinson Bell, for failure to produce noncitizen audit records which were first asked for in September and October of 2018. 

“This is a huge win for transparency in North Carolina’s elections,” PILF President J. Christian Adams said in a press release. “The public has a right to know about election vulnerabilities. These records conclusively show that foreigners have been registering to vote and voting in North Carolina elections.” 

Adams continued, “It is a shame our efforts to disclose these records were met with such resistance by election officials. Real foreign interference in American elections happens when foreigners cast ballots. This victory demonstrates that changes to national voter registration policies are needed to prevent this from happening.” 

The original request from PILF for noncitizen voting and audit process records included specific counties including Buncombe, Durham, Fosyth, Guilford, and Mecklenburg. 

While a lower court dismissed PILF’s complaint, an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was successful in May 2021. As part of the settlement agreement, the NCSBE has agreed to pay some of PILF’s legal fees. 

In response to a request for comment, NCSBE Communications Director Patrick Gannon issued the following statement: 

The bipartisan State Board of Elections voted on January 20 to settle the Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Bell lawsuit. The vote was unanimous by all members present. Under the settlement, the State Board will provide PILF various records about audit processes and list maintenance activities related to non-U.S. citizens, in exchange for a complete dismissal of the lawsuit. 

Importantly, the settlement provides that the State Board may redact all information that would allow PILF to personally identify any individual registrant who was being reviewed for potential improper registration, including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, signatures, and identifying numbers used for registration and voting purposes. PILF had sought this personal information in the litigation. 

The State Board’s goal all along was protecting the privacy of individuals who were only suspected of improper registration. The majority of such individuals were determined to be properly registered citizens, upon further review. Both a federal district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s argument that they should get such personal information. 

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The State Board will provide the records to PILF, but redact all personally identifying information. The monetary settlement was for $5,000, an amount unanimously approved by the bipartisan State Board members present for the vote. 

An important context to this lawsuit is that, at the time PILF requested the records at issue in the case, the State Board was under an order from a federal judge not to disclose many of those records. That order was lifted after this case had already been litigated in district court and on appeal. The settlement agreement explicitly disclaims that the State Board violated any law.

About A.P. Dillon 963 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_