Democrats and Republicans in this fiercely contested political battleground have regularly resorted to creative legal maneuvers and election-law changes in their efforts to wring every last vote from the state’s nearly seven million voters. But even by that standard, the disputed, hairbreadth race for governor is plowing litigious and acrimonious ground. Scrambling to save the incumbent governor, Pat McCrory, Republicans said they were pursuing protests in about half of North Carolina’s 100 counties, alleging that fraud and technical troubles had pushed the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Roy Cooper, to a statewide lead of more than 6,500 votes. But Republican-controlled county elections boards, including one here in vote-rich Durham County, turned back some of the challenges on Friday. The legal and political jockeying raised the specter of a recount, and it could ultimately climax in a political wild card: Mr. McCrory using a state law to contest the election in the state’s Republican-dominated General Assembly. “We’re supposed to have an inauguration on Jan. 7,” Theresa Kostrzewa, a Republican lobbyist, said Friday. “Are we going to have a governor? That, I think, is what most people are going to start wondering pretty soon.”
The governor’s race this year was among the most bitterly contested campaigns in the country. The state was a prime battleground in the presidential election, and it has been fractured by debates about voting, transgender rights, Medicaid and abortion. Republicans largely prevailed here on Election Day: Donald J. Trump won North Carolina by more than three percentage points, and Senator Richard Burr was re-elected by a larger margin — but Mr. McCrory struggled.
The contest’s aftermath has become a protracted spectacle. Mr. McCrory’s campaign said this week that there were “known instances of votes being cast by dead people, felons or individuals who voted more than once.” A spokesman for Mr. Cooper, Ford Porter, replied that the governor had “set a new standard for desperation.”
Such arguments helped transform what might have been perfunctory meetings of elections regulators into crucial sessions that stirred frustration on both sides. In Durham County, a Democratic stronghold, officials held a quasi-judicial gathering with sworn witnesses, an out-of-state lawyer and detailed discussions about the mechanics of elections.