Democrats have been quick to argue that their losing candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s Ninth District may have been a victim of election fraud. But there might be a Republican victim as well. He is outgoing Representative Robert M. Pittenger, whose narrow loss to Mark Harris in the Republican primary in May is just about as studded with red flags suggesting absentee ballot fraud as the general election now under scrutiny. As with the November general election, most of the concerns about the primary center on Mr. Harris’s extraordinary success with absentee voters in Bladen County, a rural swath of southeastern North Carolina where L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a shadowy contractor with a history of suspect voter turnout efforts, worked for Mr. Harris’s campaign. In that primary against Mr. Pittenger, Mr. Harris won 437 of the 456 ballots cast through the mail in Bladen County; his overall margin of victory was only 828 votes. By contrast, in an earlier run against Mr. Pittinger in 2016, Mr. Harris won only four of 226 such ballots in the county. Mr. Dowless did not work for Mr. Harris in that campaign.
North Carolina officials are now examining the May primary to see whether they could establish patterns of election fraud and gather evidence for possible criminal prosecutions.
“I’m old fashioned, but anytime somebody may have broken the law, it’s appropriate for the state to look into it,” said Carter Wrenn, the dean of North Carolina’s Republican strategists. “If they found that somebody broke the law in the primary, they ought to punish them. Just because the primary got certified, if you broke the law to win it, that doesn’t get you off the hook.”
In the meantime, the potential chicanery in the November balloting, when Mr. Harris appeared to prevail over his Democratic rival, Dan McCready, by 905 votes, may lead to a new general election, and that may give Mr. Pittenger a second chance.
Though state officials are normally limited in their ability to overturn a primary outcome that has already been certified, Republicans in the state legislature pushed through a bill on Wednesday calling for a new primary if state election officials order a re-do of the general election. Such a move would essentially revert the Ninth District Congressional race back to square one.