Two full weeks after Election Day, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has not conceded to his Democratic challenger, Roy Cooper, even though Mr. Cooper has put together a transition team and begun describing himself as governor-elect. The Republican incumbent has instead lodged formal complaints in half of the state's 100 counties, alleging widespread voter fraud.
Critics say Mr. McCrory's complaints echo the baseless claims of a "rigged" election raised repeatedly by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign, and that the governor should simply accept the election's outcome. But supporters say McCrory's fight is a legitimate effort to verify the legitimacy of that outcome by declining to abandon his hard-fought campaign prematurely.
"They've been working a long time, so they want to see it out to the final note of the symphony. They have a right to do that," Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican strategist in North Carolina, told Politico. "I've been involved in two of these recounts before, and both were smaller margins than this one, but at the end, very little changed."
A preliminary count by the State Board of Elections, as of late Monday, showed McCrory trailing behind Mr. Cooper, the state's outgoing attorney general, by about 6,500 votes out of 4.7 million ballots cast. That's a margin of less than two-tenths of 1 percent.
Election officials in Durham County, a Democratic stronghold, were forced to rely on a backup paper check-in process on Nov. 8 because of problems with the computerized system, triggering long lines and extended voting hours. McCrory's team had contested the counting of 94,000 early votes there, suggesting that officials might have relied upon data from potentially corrupted voting machines, but the local elections board rejected his request unanimously "for lack of evidence," William Brian, the chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections, said.
"The votes came in on time, but we didn't get them entered into the computer until late. It's not like somebody found 95,000 at midnight somewhere," Mr. Brian told Politico. "We just had to enter them manually."
Elsewhere in the state, several county election boards have rejected McCrory's protests, though a few early ballots have been set aside because a voter had failed to complete their felony sentence or had died before Election Day. State officials are investigating whether more than 300 felons might have voted unlawfully statewide, and whether about 150 absentee ballots in Bladen County might have been handled by members of a local political action committee without making proper disclosures.
Although observers do not see McCrory challenging enough ballots to make up for his current deficit, they note that North Carolina law authorizes the losing candidate to call for a formal statewide recount if the final result – once all 100 counties complete their tallies, perhaps by early next week – result in a margin of 10,000 votes or fewer.
"Instead of insulting North Carolina voters, we intend to let the process work as it should to ensure that every legal vote is counted properly," McCrory's campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement.
Cooper, meanwhile, issued a statement of his own vowing to make preparations for his inauguration in January: "It would be irresponsible to wait any longer to tackle the issues we campaigned on across the state."
Since state law authorizes the legislature to intervene in the event of an inconclusive election for 10 particular offices, including the governor, there has been speculation that that the Durham County problems could foreshadow action by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly, as The News & Observer in Raleigh reported:
The provision has only been used once before in modern history, when lawmakers named June Atkinson state superintendent of public instruction over Bill Fletcher in 2005, in a process that took nine months to resolve. At the time, the legislature was controlled by Democrats; Atkinson was a Democrat and Fletcher was a Republican.
But the main issue then was whether some 11,000 provisional ballots should be counted even though they were cast in precincts outside of where the voters lived. This time the question is whether computer problems in Durham County led to errors in the vote count that could change the outcome. On Tuesday, the Durham elections board chairman, a Republican, said the board has not seen evidence of any problems.
House Speaker Tim Moore said in a podcast interview that lawmakers would intervene only as "an absolute last resort."
McCrory, whose approval rating dropped last spring after he signed a so-called "bathroom bill" requiring transgender people to use public restrooms in accordance with their biological sex as assigned to them at birth, would be the only incumbent governor to lose his bid for reelection this year, as The Washington Post's Amber Phillips reported.
The Charlotte Observer, which has been critical of McCrory's stance on transgender issues, published an editorial calling on McCrory to "let county board of elections do their jobs," while also calling on Cooper to "tap on the brakes a bit, too" to let the process run its course before calling himself governor-elect.
While the sitting governor has said he's acting to preserve the democratic process, the editorial counters, "up to this point, the biggest threat to the [integrity] of the governor’s race – and to the credibility of democracy in North Carolina – is the campaign that's losing."
Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.