North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has formally requested a statewide recount of votes in his close race with Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, as pressure mounts on the incumbent Republican to concede two weeks after the election.
McCrory finished fewer than 10,000 votes behind Cooper, the state's attorney general, allowing McCrory the opportunity to ask for a recount under North Carolina law. Yet Cooper's lead has only grown since Election Day, jumping from fewer than 5,000 votes to 6,222 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the State Board of Elections website. (Cooper's campaign says their lead is actually larger, coming in at 8,569 votes as of Tuesday afternoon.)
McCrory has repeatedly raised concerns of voter fraud, filing complaints in about half of the state's 100 counties. Yet no evidence of widespread fraud has surfaced so far. Furthermore, many of McCrory's own Republican appointees serving on local county election boards have rejected his complaints.
In a statement Tuesday, McCrory's campaign manager doubled down on their concerns about the legitimacy of the state's elections results.
"With many outstanding votes yet to be counted for the first time, legal challenges, ballot protests and voter fraud allegations, we must keep open the ability to allow the established recount process to ensure every legal vote is counted properly," said Russell Peck, McCrory's campaign manager. The press release added that the formal recount will not occur until county boards of election finish tallying the results — a process that has been slowed due to factors including Republican-led challenges.
Critics see McCrory's effort as a stall tactic, one intended to undermine the results of the election and potentially cause the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly to step in and settle the race in McCrory's favor.
Such an outcome is possible under a North Carolina statute covering "contested elections for Council of State offices." But some political scientists and election experts say it's unlikely.
"Roy Cooper was up about 5,000 votes on Election Day, which is close but not that close," said Tom Jensen, director of the North Carolina-based firm Public Policy Polling.
"Close," Jensen added, was the 2008 Minnesota Senate race, which Democrat Al Franken won by 312 votes, or the 2004 Washington gubernatorial race, which Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire won by 129 votes.
With such a wide lead for Cooper, Jensen said, the legislature would likely be reluctant to hand over the election to McCrory — especially when its Republican supermajority could simply override any veto from a Democratic governor.
"There's no way that throwing out the results of a gubernatorial election are going to be popular in a court of public opinion," Jensen said. "They don't need a Republican governor, so why risk the backlash?"
Furthermore, election experts say a victory for McCrory via the state's General Assembly would almost certainly be challenged in federal court, presenting yet another uphill climb for the Republican incumbent.
In a blog post, election law expert and University of California-Irvine professor Richard Hasen wrote that the North Carolina legislature could be looking at both a Due Process and Equal Protection Clause violation if they overturned the election results without any substantial evidence of voter fraud.
"There are cases where federal courts have gotten involved in these kinds of ugly election disputes (think Roe v. Alabama, Bush v. Gore)," said Hasen. "But a brazen power grab without a plausible basis for overturning the results of a democratically conducted election? I expect the federal courts would take a very close look at such a thing."
Still, McCrory and his supporters refuse to give up. On Monday, the head of the conservative group Civitas Institute filed a lawsuit arguing North Carolina officials can't finish tallying the votes in the governor's race until they verify the residency of thousands of voters who used same-day registration — which is legal in the state after a federal appeals court struck down parts of a restrictive voting law earlier this year.
Critics, meanwhile, are intensifying their calls for McCrory to walk away. On Monday, the Raleigh News and Observer editorial board published a piece entitled, "For McCrory, failed vote challenges show it's time to concede." And on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that about two dozen protesters stood outside the entrance of a building hosting the State Board of Elections' hearing on contested ballots.
"I say, not as a Democrat but as a political scientist, that it's entirely appropriate to condemn McCrory's actions," Steve Greene, political science professor at NC State University, told NBC News. "This is not how we do things here."