Analyzing Accusations of Ballot Postmark Fraud in Pennsylvania

This is a follow-up to my previous piece looking at specific fraud claims in the 2020 U.S. election. As with that piece, I’ll try to look at these claims factually and take them seriously, in the interest of fair discourse, even though I am admittedly a skeptic. I would ask anyone claiming fraud to have the same courtesy. If you didn’t read my previous piece, I recommend you go read it now, as this is a logical continuation.

Claim 8: Fraudulently-postmarked ballots in Pennsylvania

This was brought up on Facebook by one commenter in response to Claim 7 (Pennsylvania Postmarks) in my previous article. In that claim I focused on the allegation that Pennsylvania’s ballot postmarking rules, and the interpretation of their Supreme Court, encourage fraud. Now we have something of a test case.

Project Veritas, an activist group frequently characterized as “far right” (a term which has lost some meaning in the Trump era, as some people use it to describe any Trump supporter, while for others it’s reserved for actual Nazis), has published a video interview with a USPS employee named Richard Hopkins in which he alleges that he overheard his supervisor discussing putting November 3rd postmarks on ballots collected later, which I’ll refer to as “backdating” them.

Trying out an embed for once

He notes that he didn’t witness this activity, but rather heard “them” talking about it:

They were talking about how the day before, which was the 4th…They had post dated all but one of the, all but one of the ballots that were picked up as the 3rd, but they had one that they made a mistake and postmarked it the 4th.

The “they” in this quotation appear to be Erie Postmaster Robert Weisenbach and another USPS employee named Darrell Locke, Hopkins’s supervisor.

Then later, talking about postal inspectors that apparently came to investigate this allegation:

They said that I was, because of certain factors I was kind of implicated as the one who had came out, so they wanted to get my side of the story cause they wanted to start an investigation into this. I think this comes from above them and that’s what I told the postal inspectors…I just think that they were just doing what they were told… and… yeah. [cue scary music]

In a companion article, Hopkins is also quoted:

Other employees feel the same way I do, but they do not want to say anything…They contacted me… ‘That was badass.’

Since then the story has developed, but I want to point out a couple of things about this video.

First off, the style is very strange. It cuts back and forth between founder James O’Keefe of Project Veritas in a studio environment asking questions, and Hopkins answering them to someone following him with a phone or other video recorder while on what appears to be his mail route. The disjointed nature of this makes it feel like they could have cut together any combination of questions and answers.

I’m not saying that I think this was falsely stitched together, but this production style certainly doesn’t lend extra credibility to the proceedings. Project Veritas should probably try to do anything they can to avoid questionable editing, as they were behind the deceptively-edited videos targeting ACORN back in 2009.

Second, throughout the video, O’Keefe appears to try and characterize the visit from the postal inspectors as a sinister response to whistleblower testimony. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but tonally, and via his cues to Hopkins, it shines through. Of course, postal inspectors coming to interview the witness is exactly what should happen in this sort of circumstance, so I find that implication pretty dubious.

So far in this video we have two things: an allegation of specific wrongdoing by specific people, and a general suggestion that instructions for this wrongdoing came from higher up. The second allegation is basically useless, as it is totally non-specific and free of evidence, and O’Keefe didn’t even ask Hopkins anything about why he thinks the “orders” came from higher-up. The first allegation, however, is sufficiently specific to warrant investigation. And thus, the USPS has begun to do so.

In a notarized affidavit dated November 6, 2020, Hopkins further clarifies his allegations. Here are the key bits:

  • Hopkins alleges that Postmaster Robert Weisenbach directed him and his co-workers to pick up ballots after Election Day through November 6th.
  • He alleges that Weisenbach also indicated that the ballots should be delivered directly to Weisenbach. He presumes (but does not report hearing directly) that this was so they could be backdated.
  • He alleges that he overheard Weisenbach and Lock discussing that they had “messed up yesterday” inadvertently postmarked one of the ballots collected on November 4, 2020 with the true date of receipt, rather than backdating it to November 3rd, 2020.
  • He says he was “interrogated” by a USPS postal inspector who indicated they were investigating the matter.
  • He says he was also approached by a postal worker union representative, who “began asking [him] about old allegations which have long been resolved”.

You’ll notice some things missing compared to the original video: any suggestion that the orders to do this “came from higher”, and any suggestion of other employees who “feel the same way” as he does. I’m guessing whoever is providing counsel to Hopkins dissuaded him from making non-specific accusations in an affidavit. Without those, though, this becomes less about a conspiracy to affect the election as a whole, and more about two people doing bad things in one key county. Let’s look at these allegations one by one.

First, picking up ballots. Honestly, I have no idea how this works. I assume that mail carriers just pick up everything that is in the drop box, and that if a mail-in ballot got routed to election officials after the deadline, it would be disregarded. I wouldn’t think it’s in the USPS’s or local postal workers’ purview to decide which ballots go to election processing and which do not. If postal workers really are supposed to go through the mail and leave behind ballots that are too late, then I suppose this allegation is important.

This is what a Pennsylvania mail-in ballot looks like normally:

Wait, I thought I taxes were due October 15th…

PA actually has fairly complicated mail-in ballot rules, including an internal “secrecy envelope” in addition to the outside return envelope, which must be signed. The ballot must include both envelopes and the signature in order to be counted. This means that visually, ballots do stick out.

However, I would think that in the interest of free and fair elections, ballot rejections would need to be done at the election level, not at the USPS level. That way voters could find out, for example, if their vote was rejected due to late postmark. What is supposed to happen if I put a ballot in my mailbox on November 4th? Do they leave it there? Collect it and throw it out? Collect it and return-to-sender?

Wanting yet another agency like the USPS to decide which ballots to collect seems like a bad idea, especially considering what a point of contention PA mail-in ballots have been so far. So again, the first allegation doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me, but we’ll have to see how the investigation shakes out.

Second, delivering late ballots directly to the local Postmaster. This could be nefarious, or not, I don’t know. For all I know (assuming he did request this), he wanted to notify the voters that their votes wouldn’t be counted. This needs to be investigated, and it is. As of now we just have this unsubstantiated allegation.

Third, Weisenbach and Locke discussing their alleged misdeeds. This is the most direct and specific allegation, so we’ll have to see what the investigation turns up. As of now all we have is this affidavit.

Fourth, Hopskins’s “interrogation”. Look, if you care about election integrity, and you make allegations of fraud, you should want those investigated. If you’re alleging fraud by USPS officials in the performance of their official duties, the Postal Inspector is going to get involved. From everything I’ve heard, you don’t fuck with the USPIS. Don’t complain if they come ask you questions. It’s not their job to soothe your ego, it’s their job to find the truth.

Fifth, the mysterious union rep visit. Is it plausible that senior officials could use union power to lean on a whistleblower? Most definitely. The USPS Office of the Inspector General does have whistleblower retaliation policies in place, although apparently they are not subject to the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Regardless, a union rep visiting a union employee who is making allegations against their agency is not an unusual turn of events.

Basically what we have so far here in PA is a whole lot of smoke from one USPS mail carrier, amplified by a motivated activist group. Now Senator Lindsay Graham has gotten involved, demanding investigations by the Justice Department and the Postmaster General (who it sounds like is already on the case, according to the affidavit). And frankly, that’s his job. He should demand investigations if allegations are credible. I would argue that if this wasn’t such a politically-charged topic this investigation wouldn’t be on the national stage yet in this way, but that’s just how things are.

I do have to take issue with one thing Senator Graham said:

The expanded use of mail-in voting is making the post office the administrator of elections, not the local election officials.

That doesn’t ring true for me, and that’s exactly why I would suggest the USPS just collect and deliver every ballot, and let the elections officials sort it out. That’s their job.

I think this allegation is a perfect demonstration of exactly why all the furor around election fraud is counterproductive. This one might actually have some truth to it, although with a far smaller effect than the Republicans would like. But that signal is easily lost in the noise of complete bullshit from Trump supporters, and it isn’t helped by the presence of “advocacy” organizations like Project Veritas that operate from the loosest of rule books.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at the potential blast radius of this accusation.

Erie County reports the following General Election vote counts as of November 6th, 2020 at 8:00PM:

Not sure why ballots and voters are listed separately, but hey, I guess now we know one person, one vote :)

You’ll note that mail-in and absentee ballots total 49,102. Now, here are the Erie County results as of that same time:

Now I’m not sure what that right-most column is for…Erie County needs to up their spreadsheet game

I’ve cut off the 21 write-in candidates listed in the report, which is why we’ve lost about 400 votes. From these numbers, we can deduce that Erie County’s final mail-in plus absentee vote split between the top two candidates is 74.79% Biden and 23.27% Trump, with a margin of 25,297 votes between them.

The vote difference between the candidates for all ballot types in Pennsylvania as a whole is 43,194. That means that with the margin in mailed ballots that occurred in Erie County, these two alleged malefactors would’ve had to collect 57,754 ballots after the election to potentially swing Pennsylvania. That’s 8,652 more mail-in/absentee ballots than were collected in total for the county.

So for the alleged malfeasance of these two postal employees to have changed the Pennsylvania outcome, the following would’ve needed to occur:

  • Have all the mail-in and absentee ballots for Erie County, plus some additional ones that don’t exist, be mailed after the November 3rd deadline
  • Personally backdate the postmark on 57,754 ballots
  • Somehow not have anyone notice that Darrell has nearly 60,000 envelopes stuffed into his gym bag

If they were complete masterminds and somehow managed to actually change all those ballots’ votes to Biden, they still would need to have done the above with 43,195 ballots, which would be 88% of the total mailed-in ballots in Erie County, all sent after Election Day.

I should also note that I’m being charitable here and assuming that Postmaster Weisenbach had access to all ballots for Erie, PA. I wasn’t able to determine his full scope of responsibilities, but most Postmasters only run a single post office.

To be clear: I absolutely think we should take this allegation seriously, and we are. USPIS appears to be on the case, and if they aren’t, I’m sure Senator Graham will light a fire. But there is no credible concern about the election here. If we charitably assume that these two USPS employees could fraudulently collect and backdate 500 ballots without being noticed, you would still need fraudsters embedded in another 86 of PA’s 1,805 post offices to be part of a coordinated effort to swing the election (and that assumes that each of those post offices would have to be in areas with equally high turn-out for Biden). Also, since there were a total of about 2.55 million mail-in ballots returned in Pennsylvania, you’d need at least 2.26% of mailed ballots to have been returned late, assuming you could manage to backdate every last one of them.

A few additional items of note about this case:

The accused Postmaster, Robert Weisenbach, has apparently expressed his anti-Trump political viewpoints in the past. I think this is just a good reminder to us all that if you are in the public eye, in any way, you should be measured about what you post online. The article from the Iowa Standard looks like tabloid muckraking to me, but there’s no way it serves Weisenbach well.

Richard Hopkins has now started the inevitable GoFundMe to support his defense. As of this writing, it has reached $121,686 on a $50,000 goal. I’m sure this unregulated windfall will be well-spent on critical whistleblower activities.

The Erie County Election Board has come out in defense of Robert Weisenbach, while noting that the allegations “[have] nothing to do with the work and effort of the Erie County Board of Elections”. Again, I suggest keeping the USPS as much out of ballot decision making as possible.

Site Reliability Engineer, former infantryman. Always open to discussion opportunities and ideas.

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