It’s the worst fears of conservatives realized. A close election, ballots disappearing, disturbing allegations of organized dirty tricks to affect the final totals. Righties have been warning about this for years, with liberals scoffing all the while about voter-fraud paranoia. We were right.

There’s just one wrinkle. The apparent winner of the race, the man who seemingly benefited from those dirty tricks, was … the Republican candidate. The Democrat is the one who’s alleging chicanery.

And he has enough evidence to have convinced the state to hold a public hearing about it next month.

The North Carolina Board of Elections has voted to hold an evidentiary hearing to address irregularities in the U.S. House District 9 race.

State election officials voted 7-2 Friday to hold the hearing on or before Dec. 21…

[Republican Mark] Harris leads [Democrat Dan] McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 votes cast in all or parts of eight south-central counties encompassing the 9th District. The GOP has held the district since 1963.

What sort of chicanery are we talking about here? From WaPo:

The board is collecting sworn statements from voters in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, near the South Carolina border, who described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without filling them out. Others described receiving absentee ballots by mail that they had not requested. It is illegal to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.

Investigators are also scrutinizing unusually high numbers of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County, in both the general election and the May 8 primary, in which Harris defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) by 828 votes. In the primary, Harris won 96 percent of all absentee ballots in Bladen, a far higher percentage than his win in the county overall — a statistic that this week is prompting fresh accusations of fraud.

Another irregularity in both the primary and general elections is the high number of absentee ballots in some precincts that were requested but not turned in.

Absentee ballots in Bladen County are the focal point. To see why the numbers look funny, eyeball the three graphs prepared by Vox. Most counties in the Ninth District had a roughly 20-25 percent rate of unreturned absentee ballots. In Bladen, the rate was 40 percent. (In Robeson County, it was 62 percent!) The share of unreturned absentee ballots in North Carolina district by district was highly consistent, with 12 of the state’s 13 congressional jurisdictions reporting rates ranging from 11 to 17 percent. The one exception: The Ninth District, which had a rate of 24 percent.

If that’s not odd enough for you:

At 22 percent, Bladen County easily had the highest percentage of absentee-by-mail ballots in the district. Mecklenburg County was the next highest at only 1.6 percent.

Here are the percentages from the other counties in the 9th Congressional District: Union (.07 percent); Anson (0 percent); Scotland (1.5 percent); Robeson (1.1 percent); Cumberland (.08 percent); Richmond (.02 percent).

Not only did Bladen County have an unusually high number of unreturned absentees and a freakishly high share of absentees as overall votes, Harris cleaned up among the absentee votes that were returned — and not just in the general election. Look again at the excerpt above and note that he somehow took 96 percent(!!) of absentees in Bladen from a sitting congressman of his own party. (By comparison, Harris won just 62 percent of the overall vote in Bladen in the primary.) In the general, against McCready, he took 61 percent of absentees in Bladen even though the number of Republicans who requested absentee ballots was much smaller than the numbers of Democrats and independents who did.

One more number from Nate Silver:

Union is much more red than Bladen, and Mecklenburg is basically just as red. Both showed strong shifts towards the Democrat this year. The one strange outlier was Bladen County. Hmmm!

There are claims floating around that people were overheard saying that a local operative was in charge of absentee ballots for Harris and was set to receive a big bonus if Harris won the election. Who knows if that’s true; that’s what the evidentiary hearing is for. The fact that more than one person has claimed that someone came to their door to collect their absentee ballot is disturbing, though. The implication from the data above is clear — there was a huge glut of absentee ballots in Bladen County, many of which were returned and many of which weren’t, and somehow they broke strangely heavily for Harris in not one but two different elections. Is there just a very devoted Mark Harris contingent in Bladen that doesn’t like to vote in person on Election Day or was something else going on?

And if something else was going on, what does that mean for Harris and McCready?

WaPo reported a few days ago that the state has the power to order a new election if it finds that the vote was tainted, which I take to mean that any fraud that was committed needn’t have been decisive to warrant a re-vote. The state obviously has an interest in reassuring voters about the integrity of the process. An election result that was allowed to stand on grounds of “well, yes, there was quite a lot of cheating but it didn’t affect the outcome” would be … unhelpful to that reassurance. Stay tuned.