ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. — The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party said Thursday that a new election may be appropriate in the state’s Ninth Congressional District, where allegations of fraud have cast doubts on the fairness and accuracy of the vote count.
If the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement can state “there was a substantial likelihood that the race could have been altered, then we would not oppose a new election,” said the executive director, Dallas Woodhouse.
State investigators have issued subpoenas and begun sifting through thousands of pages of records to determine whether absentee-ballot fraud gave an advantage to Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the Ninth District. Preliminary returns, which state officials have refused to certify, showed Mr. Harris with a 905-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.
But the validity of Mr. Harris’s margin has been called into question in recent days as witnesses have repeatedly described a voter-turnout operation that appeared to rely on at least one seemingly illegal tactic: collecting absentee ballots directly from voters. The operation raised questions of whether ballots had been improperly marked for Mr. Harris or discarded if they were to be cast for Mr. McCready.
The elections board is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing on or before Dec. 21. Under state law, the panel, which includes four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member, may order a new election if it finds that “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”
Democrats have warned that if the allegations about Mr. Harris’s campaign are not sufficiently resolved, they will be reluctant to allow him to be seated in January. On Tuesday, Representative Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who is the incoming House majority leader, told reporters in Washington that “if there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved.”
The Constitution gives the chamber the authority to be “the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.”
Mr. Woodhouse’s statements on Thursday appeared to reflect both the political realities on Capitol Hill and the mounting worries of North Carolina Republicans, who have spent years crusading against fraud and now see one of their candidates as a potential beneficiary.
Until Thursday, Republicans had been publicly adamant that the state elections board immediately certify Mr. Harris’s victory. But Mr. Woodhouse said that an accumulation of media reports had concerned him.
“We are as horrified as anybody about the news reports we’ve seen,” Mr. Woodhouse said. “We were horrified at the prospect, just the allegation that anybody’s vote was intercepted and manipulated.”
A CNN segment, he said, had led him to vomit on Wednesday night.
Mr. Woodhouse was careful to say Thursday that the party was not abandoning Mr. Harris’s candidacy, and he expressed confidence in Mr. Harris’s character.
The Harris campaign was the subject of a subpoena this week, as was Red Dome Group, a Charlotte-area consulting firm that worked for Mr. Harris. The firm hired L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a political operative from Bladen County with both a felony record for fraud and an extensive record of working on voter-turnout operations.
Mr. Dowless declined to comment.
Last week, Mr. Harris said on Twitter that he would “support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties.”
But in his next tweet, posted within a minute, he wrote that the elections board “should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation.”