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Only 2 ballots that arrived late and had Nov. 3 postmark came from Erie postal facility

A U.S. Postal Service employee in Erie, who made claims last week that his superiors were back-dating ballots that were sent after Election Day, recanted his statements in interviews with investigators, according to reports.

On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post reported that Richard Hopkins admitted to fabricating the allegations while being interviewed by Postal Service investigators in recent days. The Post cited three people briefed on the investigation and a statement on Twitter from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

But hours later, in a video retweeted by President Donald Trump, Hopkins denied he had recanted his allegations, stating that "I'm here to say I did not recant my statements. That did not happen. That is not what happened."

The video in just a few hours had received more than 1.3 million views.

Hopkins' allegations, though, were already beginning to fall apart before news broke that he had recanted his statement.

The Erie Times-News on Tuesday morning reviewed 129 mail-in ballot envelopes that were postmarked Nov. 3 but arrived at the Erie County Board of Elections after Election Day. 

Of those 129 ballots, only two postmarked Nov. 3 were processed through the Erie facility, the Times-News discovered in its review, which was conducted in the presence of Erie County Board of Elections Chairman Carl Anderson and others.

A bulk of the ballots were processed at various locations across the state and the country, from places as far west as Tacoma, Washington, and as far south as Florida. Most were postmarked in Pittsburgh. The voters are registered in Erie County, but likely are out of the area for work, college or travel, Anderson said.

The courts have ordered that all late-arriving mail-in ballots be segregated. On Monday, they also ordered that the ballots not be included in any Pennsylvania county's overall tally. The Erie County Board of Elections will remove those ballots from its count either Tuesday or in the coming days.

Vote totals are unofficial. Though counties were supposed to finalize their vote totals by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Pennsylvania's Deputy Secretary for Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks extended the counting to accommodate elections observers who are monitoring the process. Erie County completed its final, unofficial count Tuesday evening.

The allegations

The allegation that employees at the Erie Postal Service facility were "back-dating" mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day was made by Hopkins, 32, last week. The claims came as Trump and his supporters have filed a slew of lawsuits and made numerous public, but yet-to-be-proved claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and other states.

Hopkins initially told the conservative activist group Project Veritas that he and other carriers were instructed by Postmaster Robert Weisenbach to bring him all ballots that they picked up after Election Day.

Hopkins also claimed to overhear Weisenbach tell another supervisor that he, Weisenbach, was back-dating ballots "to make it appear as though the ballots had been collected on November 3, 2020, despite them in fact being collected on November 4 and possibly later," according to an affidavit circulated by the group and purportedly signed by Hopkins. Hopkins initially said "all but one" of the ballots received Nov. 4 had been back-dated to Nov. 3.

On Nov. 5, Hopkins said he "overheard Weisenbach tell (another supervisor) that they 'messed up yesterday' — November 4, 2020 — by accidentally postmarking one ballot as having been collected Nov. 4, 2020 (when it had actually been collected)," the signed affidavit says. 

Not only did the Erie Times-News review find that only two late-arriving ballots processed at the Erie postal facility have a Nov. 3 postmark, but it also found that nine late ballots processed in Erie were postmarked Nov. 4 or later.

Project Veritas, founded by James O’Keefe in 2010, is known for undercover-style reporting and video, sometimes secretly recorded, used to reveal what it sees as liberal bias. Some of the content it has circulated has been found to be false and/or misleading.

Weisenbach issued a statement Saturday evening saying the allegations are "100% false."

“Good evening my friends,” Weisenbach wrote. “There has been awful things posted about the USPS and here is my statement. The allegations made against me and the Erie Post Office are 100% false made by an employee that was recently disciplined multiple times.

“The Erie Post Office did not backdate any ballots,” Weisenbach wrote. 

Hopkins had not responded to requests for comment from the Erie Times-News. Last week, a Postal Service spokesman said that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Office of Inspector General were looking into the claims. According to the Washington Post, Hopkins admitted to investigators that his statements were not true and he signed a new affidavit recanting the claims.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, on its Twitter page, reported on Tuesday evening that Hopkins “completely recanted” his allegations regarding mishandled ballots in Erie.  

That committee is the U.S. House of Representatives’ main investigative body and has jurisdiction over the Postal Service. It is led by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York state

According to a series of tweets, the first of which was sent at 5:22 p.m. Tuesday, the Postal Service’s investigation of Hopkins’ allegations began last week. Investigators from the Office of the Inspector General “informed Committee staff today that they interviewed Hopkins on Friday” and that Hopkins recanted his allegations, according to one of the tweets.

Further, Hopkins “did not explain why he signed a false affidavit” with Project Veritas alleging tampering and fraud, according to the committee’s tweets. 

Tad Kelley, a Pittsburgh-based U.S. Postal Service spokesman, could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Hopkins denied reports that he recanted his initial claims late Tuesday evening, after the Erie Times-News print deadline.

Before Trump called him a "brave patriot" Tuesday, Hopkins' allegations had been amplified by the likes of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Graham, in a statement recently, called on the Department of Justice and the Postal Service to inspect Hopkins' claims, saying he would not allow "allegations of voting irregularities and misconduct to be swept under the rug." 

Graham stated he received Hopkins' sworn affidavit from the Trump campaign.

The two Project Veritas videos of Hopkins, the first of which his identity is anonymous, his voice is distorted and his face is blurred, have been viewed thousands of times on social media.

Hopkins had started an online fundraiser that, as of Tuesday afternoon, had raised more than $136,000, far exceeding its $50,000 goal, to help him if he is fired or forced to resign. Project Veritas claimed that the fundraising site had frozen the account, barring Hopkins from drawing funds from it. The page appeared to have been removed by 11 p.m. Tuesday. Project Veritas also claimed Hopkins had been placed on unpaid leave, but the Erie Times-News has not yet verified that statement.

Project Veritas has circulated similar, unproven claims of Postal Service back-dating in Michigan and another part of Pennsylvania. The claim about back-dating postmarks in Michigan, though unproven, would still be a moot point because the state did not accept any ballots received after Election Day.  

Pennsylvania law also required all mail-in and absentee ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September granted a request from Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to accept mail-in and absentee ballots received within three days of the election as long as there was no proof those ballots were sent after Election Day. 

The Pennsylvania Republican Party appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 on the issue last month. The GOP refiled the case, which the court declined to expedite before the election. President Donald Trump's campaign in recent days has sought to join the lawsuit. 

Though the ballots were made part of Erie County's vote total Friday, a court order Monday requires that those votes be removed from any county's tally until lawsuits are resolved.

County mistakenly included seven late ballots 

Though the Erie Post Office only postmarked two ballots Nov. 3 that were received by the Erie County Board of Elections within the three-day window, county elections officials on Monday evening discovered that they, not the Post Office, erred in including seven other ballots with Nov. 4 postmarks in the count of valid, late-arriving ballots. Six of the seven were processed and postmarked Nov. 4 by the mail facility in Erie. 

Even though all late-arriving mail-in ballots are currently not permitted to be part of the total vote count, Anderson and Supervisor of Elections Tonia Fernandez said the office would try to "reconcile" which of the seven ballots were sent after Election Day. By the end of Tuesday, five of the seven ballots had been matched to their envelopes.

Anderson noted that the inclusion of those ballots was a "clerical error" that the elections office caught on its own and that there was no "ill-intent" involved. 

Even if the late-arriving ballots are not included in Erie County's vote totals when the Board of Elections certifies its count, they would make little change in the presidential race. 

That's because the candidates nearly split those votes.

With the five votes removed, President-elect Joe Biden received 62 votes (a loss of three); President Donald Trump received 58 votes (a loss of two); Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen received eight votes and there were two write-ins. 

Erie County completed its final, unofficial count of all ballot types late Tuesday. Biden had 68,336 votes to Trump's 66,912 votes — a margin of 1,424 votes. Libertarian Presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen had 1,936 votes. There were also 414 write-in votes for president