Suspicious activities have so clouded a congressional race in North Carolina that the state elections board has twice refused to certify the Republican candidate's unofficial 905-vote victory over the Democrat. More than 280,000 voters cast ballots in the 9th Congressional District race in November.

Officials have raised concerns over how absentee ballots were collected. Some officials are floating the dramatic step of holding a new election. The Charlotte Observer Editorial Board supported that move Wednesday.

This could be a real example of election fraud, though such cases are indeed rare. But it doesn't involve showing voter identification at the polls, the boogeyman Republican lawmakers contend is needed to prevent wrongdoing. (They also happen to know Democratic-leaning voters are the people less likely to have such IDs.)

All the while, President Donald Trump has been blissfully silent about the possible treachery taking place in the Tar Heel State's 9th Congressional District. Like it's no big deal.

Here's why all of this is significant:

Trump bellowed, without a shred of evidence, he lost the popular vote in 2016 because millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. He then formed a sham Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity; many states refused to comply with the panel's intrusive requests for voter data. Trump eventually disbanded the commission in January.

During last month's midterms, the president repeatedly tweeted Democrats were trying to steal close elections in Florida — again, fact-free assertions. Recounts ultimately verified the GOP candidates had won for governor and U.S. Senate. 

I checked Trump's twitter feed since Election Day, Nov. 6. There's not a single mention of the mess happening in North Carolina between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. 

Call it "situational alarm." Since the president's side could be the wrongdoers, he's keeping his mouth shut.

The North Carolina race is for one of 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's not a City Council race, or a state legislative contest decided by the luck of drawing lots

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a northern Virginia Democrat, on Wednesday requested an emergency hearing on the controversy. He's a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Much of the spotlight centers on operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, who supported Harris. State investigators are probing whether his actions violated North Carolina election law, which says absentee ballots must be sent in — by mail or in person — by the voter or a close relative. 

The Washington Post and other news outlets say the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has subpoenaed the Harris campaign. Much of the inquiry focuses on activities in Bladen County. The 9th District is in south-central North Carolina. 

Sources familiar with the probe have identified hundreds of potential witnesses to interview. Their absentee ballots were never turned in. 

"Nearly 55 percent of ballots (in Bladen County) mailed to Native American voters and 36 percent mailed to African American voters were not returned," The Post said, "while the non-return rate among white voters in the district was just 18 percent."

Voters of color tend to vote Democratic, and blacks almost exclusively so.

Dowless has some less-than-stellar personal history. He served prison time in 1995 for felony fraud. He was also convicted of felony perjury in 1992. 

The state board, in a bipartisan decision last week, said it would "hold a public evidentiary hearing into claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting and potentially other matters" in the 9th District contest by Dec. 21.

This is significantly more sinister than a felon voting illegally while thinking his rights had been restored, or a non-citizen mistakenly casting a ballot. There's an undercurrent here that operatives tried to hijack the results. 

In the North Carolina case, Trump and GOP officials don't like the narrative — including the fact their side could be at fault.

Presidents are often partisans. But in a situation where democracy is threatened by law-breaking, Trump should condemn what happened in North Carolina. 

There's a lot more evidence that fraud took place in North Carolina than in all of Trump's previous specious claims.

Roger Chesley, 757-446-2329, roger.chesley@pilotonline.com

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