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North Carolina’s 9th district Republican candidate at a campaign rally last year. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

An investigation into North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District 2018 election has found a "coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" in two counties carried out by a political operative hired by the Republican candidate, the state’s elections board executive director revealed Monday at a hearing.

Why it matters: The evidentiary hearing may last for two days and it could prompt the five-member election board to certify the November results or order a new election in the district if there’s strong evidence that ballot-tampering was widespread enough to affect the outcome of the race. Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders in Washington had signaled that they could launch their own inquiry, depending on the outcome of hearing.

The backstory: Fraud allegations have roiled the country’s last unresolved midterm House race after the election board in late November declined to certify Republican candidate Mark Harris, who holds an unofficial 905-vote lead over his Democratic opponent Dan McCready, as the winner. The board cited claims of "numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" with the collection of absentee ballots in breach of state election law.

What we've learned from Monday's hearing:

  • After a months-long probe into election irregularities, elections board director Kim Strach said the Republican operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, hired workers and paid each $150.00 per 50 absentee ballot request forms, and another $125.00 for every 50 absentee ballots collected.
  • There’s evidence that workers directly provided Dowless with ballots from Bladen and Robeson counties in order to get paid, and instructed them to falsely sign as witnesses. [It’s illegal in the state for anyone other than close relative to handle a voter’s absentee ballot.]
  • More than 1,000 ballots from both counties were affected.
  • Investigators found that Dowless completed and mailed in incomplete or blank ballots from his office and home, and he took several steps to conceal the fraud. These include using the same color ink as voters to forged witness signatures and instructed workers to deliver ballots in small batches to the post office closest to the voter.
  • Lisa Britt, who said she was hired by Dowless, testified that she collected unsealed ballots, and in some cases, filled them out in favor of Republicans in down-ballot local races.

The big picture: The allegations against Harris campaign run counter to the baseless claims of rampant voter fraud by Democrats often trumpeted by President Trump and other Republican officials. National Republicans have been silent on the case — undercutting their own purported hardline stance on election fraud — while Harris and his allies are urging the state to certify him as the winner.

Go deeper:

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Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.

Who in Congress is talking about Ukraine the most

Data: Quorum; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Mentions of Ukraine or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in congressional statements and social media posts have been on the rise — with nearly 1,000 already this month, according to data from Quorum.

Why it matters: The growing threat of a Russian invasion has been mirrored by a growth in Ukraine-related chatter.

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