Fact check: Alleged ‘backdated’ ballots wouldn’t have been counted even if USPS claim true

Eric Litke, USA TODAY

The claim: The USPS backdated 100K ballots so they could be counted illegally

A U.S. Postal Service contractor working in Wisconsin during the election claims USPS workers told him about 100,000 “missing” ballots and a move to backdate ballots.

The claims from this purported whistleblower are being trumpeted by an array of conservative news outlets and personalities — including President Donald Trump — amid the ongoing effort to discredit and overturn election results in Wisconsin. Claims of widespread voter fraud across the U.S. have been presented without evidence and led to a string of defeats for the Trump campaign in court.

But this claim carries a particularly noteworthy bit of senselessness — even if it were 100% true, it would not have altered the Wisconsin election results by a single vote.

Ethan Pease, a temporary employee of a subcontractor, told his story shortly after the election, but it has found renewed life after he appeared at a Dec. 1 press conference in Arlington, Virginia, then made appearances on Fox News with Sean Hannity and Fox Business with Lou Dobbs. Trump posted the press conference video on his YouTube channel.

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Various write-ups of this claim appeared on several conservative websites and were widely shared on Facebook. Some narratives citing Pease connect his claim to improperly counted votes.

The Lutchman Report website said ballots were backdated “so that the ballots would be counted even if they arrived after the statutory deadline.”

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But that’s simply not possible — the Wisconsin deadline is based on when ballots are received, not postmarked.

Let’s dig into the details.

Pease’s allegation

Pease’s claim — sworn to in an affidavit that is being used in a lawsuit challenging the election results — is based on two conversations he had with USPS workers while filling a delivery role around the election.

Pease said he started his job Aug. 26 as a temporary employee with United Mailing Services, working as a route and box truck driver in the Madison area. His job was to pick up mail and bring it back to UMS, which then sorted it so he could drive the sorted mail to USPS. That mail included ballots housed in separate bins.

Here’s Pease’s description of the interactions the day after the Nov. 3 election:

Nov. 4, I was asked by a senior USPS employee named Monte if I had forgotten any ballots the night before. Monte explained that an order came down from the Wisconsin-Illinois chapter of USPS that 100,000 ballots were missing. Monte then told me that his post office had dispatched employees to look for the missing ballots around 4 a.m., and that only seven or eight were found at UMS. Based on my previous experience and habit of double-checking for ballots, I believed that to be a lie.

The following day, Nov. 5, 2020, I had a conversation with a different USPS employee named Rachel, in which she admitted USPS employees were ordered to backdate ballots that were received too late to be lawfully counted.

At this point we can’t address the validity of Pease’s claims, though it’s noteworthy they come from a temporary employee of a subcontractor based on his interpretation of conversations, not any direct observation.

The USPS did not immediately respond to an email asking if it is investigating the matter.

But we do know this had no impact on the election results.

No impact on election results

The widely shared social media posts built around Pease generally connect his claims to illegally counting those votes, though Pease never made that claim himself in the press conferences or Fox appearances.

And that connection is fraught with logical impossibilities.

The biggest by far is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Wisconsin voting deadline.

An array of litigation on absentee ballots in Wisconsin ended Oct. 26 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling absentee ballots would only be counted if they were returned by Election Day — upholding previous practice. Democrats and other nonpartisan groups had sought changes allowing ballots to be counted if they were postmarked by Election Day, even if they were received later.

So local election workers across the state only counted absentee ballots that were submitted by the time polls closed on Election Day.

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The entirety of Pease’s allegations involve actions taken Nov. 4 and 5. In terms of the vote tally, it doesn’t matter what USPS employees did with ballots at that point. No election officials were going to count them. And the entire state had already reported its election results (Milwaukee County was last, about 4 a.m. Nov. 4).

In Madison, where Pease worked, the last election results were reported the night of the election.

Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, summed it up this way, addressing Pease’s claims:

“In Wisconsin, no ballots received after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 3, could be counted, period. It doesn’t matter when they were postmarked. This was extensively litigated in federal courts in the weeks prior to the election and everyone, including the post office, knew that postmarks were immaterial to whether ballots were counted in Wisconsin.”

We should also note that some conspiracy theories online connect the timing of Pease’s comment — a ballot search at 4 a.m. Nov. 4 — to the “vote dump” claims that allege a jump in votes for Democrat Joe Biden in the wee hours of Nov. 4 is somehow questionable. The vote dump claim has been repeatedly debunked: The increase in votes was simply when the city of Milwaukee finished counting its absentee ballots, which were predictably heavily in Biden’s favor.

But the connection is illogical on its face, as well. It’s ridiculous to assert a jump in reported votes occurred at the same time employees were searching for ballots across an array of facilities. That supposed correlation leaves no time for ballots to be transported to election officials, verified, counted and added to tallies.

Our ruling: Missing context

An array of social media posts have seized on statements from a “whistleblower” to say the USPS backdated 100K ballots so they could be counted illegally. We can’t yet gauge the validity of the back-dating claims. But we do know it’s unreasonable to say this affected the Wisconsin vote totals, so we rate that claim as MISSING CONTEXT, based on our research.

Absentee ballots had to be received by the time polls closed on Election Day to be counted, and all state election results were reported by the early morning hours of Nov. 4. Pease’s claims relate to actions allegedly taken Nov. 4 and 5. Whatever happened to ballots then, no one was going to count and include them.

Our fact-check sources

Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or elitke@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Even 'backdated' ballots wouldn't affect Wisconsin results