When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss.
The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte and blamed the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” according to three people at the gathering.
Pittenger’s concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17.
In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions.
GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said.
Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes….
Since reports of irregularities in the 9th District emerged last month, GOP leaders in the state — including Dallas Woodhouse, the state GOP executive director — initially played down concerns that laws were broken. They repeatedly cast the situation in political terms, asserting that any voting irregularities were not widespread enough to change the outcome of the election.
In recent days, amid mounting allegations of a ballot-harvesting operation, state Republicans have shifted their rhetoric. Woodhouse told The Post on Thursday that if the state elections board can “show a substantial likelihood” that possible fraud could have changed the outcome of November’s vote, “then we fully would support a new election.”
In an interview this week, Woodhouse initially said he did not recall fielding complaints from Pittenger aides of possible fraud after the primary. But he called back a few moments later to say that he did remember hearing of anomalies — and took “a cursory look at the end of that race at the vote totals.”
He recalled concluding that Harris had won the overall vote with a strong showing from evangelical voters, but he said: “We did not look real specifically at absentee ballots.”