CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As elections offices across the United States prepare for the upcoming election, officials say they're being inundated with public records requests asking for documents or data pertaining to elections and fraud.
The amount of work required to fulfill these public information requests is taking time away from getting ready for the midterms elections, which are less than 50 days away, according to officials.
One such request asked for information including every ballot, its sequential ID, timestamp and method of voting used in all of Wake County, home to the state's capital of Raleigh.
Another common request comes from citizens who have “continuing concerns regarding the integrity of all elections after 2019.” Scotland County elections officials noted that templated request was coming in "like hot cakes" and would yield a large number of document returns.
State officials agree: There is a growing trend for public information requests that are seemingly very broad.
“What we’ve seen more recently over the past year or so are all documents that have the word 'election' in them, or the word 'fraud' in them," Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections told WCNC Charlotte. "That, you can well imagine, is very voluminous."
What is a public records request?
Public records requests allow for transparency in our government. Anyone can submit one and the government agency has an obligation to fulfill it in a timely manner.
In 2020, the North Carolina State Board of Elections received fewer than 100 public records requests, the office told WCNC Charlotte. In 2021, the office received 229. Already this year, they have received 287.
Managing the requests ahead of the election
“They are pertaining to something that is not timely and so we are focusing on what is timely to this election,” Bell said. “Getting our poll workers trained, getting our polling places set up at a time when we still are faced with a communicable disease.”
The bulk of the requests are coming from people who are questioning the safety and security of elections.
“Those elections have been certified and those officials are serving in their elected capacities,” Bell said.
The amount of labor required to fulfill all the requests can take away some of the resources focused on ensuring voters can have confidence in the upcoming elections process, according to officials.
“We have tried and true processes in place that are carried out by bipartisan officials," Bell said. "Be it at the polling place, be it by the county board of elections or here at the state board of elections. We also take oaths to conduct those elections fairly and securely."
In Mecklenburg County, those processes are underway in the 15,000-square-foot warehouse securely housing all of the voting equipment. WCNC Charlotte’s Chloe Leshner was recently given a tour of the space.
“Before we even let it out of this office, we’re guaranteeing it's working and it's counting votes the way it’s supposed to count votes,” Michael Dickerson, the Mecklenburg County Director of Elections, said during that tour.
As they run required logic and accuracy tests on the equipment, county offices are forced to dedicate staff to fulfill the unprecedented number of records requests still coming in.
“The labor of what that takes is really depleting resources at a time when that’s not where our energy needs to be,” Bell said. “We are zeroed in on the midterm election and making sure that we can provide safe secure elections for every eligible voter in North Carolina.”
North Carolina has some of the most publicly-available elections data in the country posted on the state board of elections website. Officials said this is on purpose so the public understands what the state and county board of elections are doing.