TRAVERSE CITY — A video shared widely on social media claimed postal workers in Traverse City backdated absentee ballots.
This backdating narrative could not have impacted the local election, according to local elections officials, as ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day cannot be counted by state decree.
“We already counted all the ballots received by 8 p.m. and they’re all secured, so we’re not counting any late ballots. So it doesn’t even matter if they did that, because it’s not going to affect anything,” said Bonnie Scheele, Grand Grand Traverse County Clerk.
The video, released online Nov. 4, depicts a video chat with a person who said employees at the Barlow Post Office were told to collect and separate late-arriving absentee ballots so they could be hand-stamped Nov. 3.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and postal inspectors are on site investigating, said Vince Nichols, president of Traverse City Area Local American Postal Workers Union.
A USPS spokesperson confirmed the issue is being investigated.
“The U.S. Postal Service is aware of the video, which has been referred to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Office of Inspector General,” Sabrina A. Todd, USPS customer relations coordinator, said in an email.
“I didn’t witness anyone doing anything like what they say in the video,” Nichols, who sometimes works at the Barlow Post Office, said. “If I did, I would have turned them in.”
Ron Krumrie, union vice-president, confirmed the video does use the name of a current Barlow Branch supervisor and does depict a postal worker badge.
Krumrie echoed Sheele’s assessment, saying no such scheme, if attempted, could not have succeeded in getting late ballots counted.
In Michigan, it is arrival time, not postmark date, that determines the cut-off.
“Absentee ballots had to be addressed to whatever town office the voter is registered in, and they had to be in the hands of the precinct by 8 p.m. Tuesday night,” Krumrie said.
Nichols and Krumrie both said postal workers received extensive training on absentee ballot handling and that election mail is given special importance by postal workers.
Nichols said in the month leading up to the election, an election task force met weekly, then daily, to ensure election-related mail was delivered properly.
“That would be outright fraud,” Krumrie said, of accusations made in the video.
“It’s a strange world we live in,” Nichols added.
The video, produced by Project Veritas, was posted online Nov. 4, the day after the election.
Scheele said someone sent her a link to the video claiming absentee ballots were being backdated. She replied to the sender that they wouldn’t have counted anyway. Nor had Scheele heard about any townships receiving hand-postmarked absentee ballots, she said.
Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said his office received two hand-postmarked ballots after the polls closed, dated Nov. 4 and Nov. 5. Those ballots won’t be counted, nor will the envelopes be opened, he said.
He was unaware of the video but said the deadline for absentee ballots has been 8 p.m. on Election Day for his entire career, and 97 percent of absentee ballots the city sent out were returned on time.
East Bay Township received some ballots after the election — including one returned as “undeliverable,” township Clerk Susanne Courtade said. None were hand-postmarked.
“We went to the post office at 5 p.m. (Tuesday) just to make sure there wasn’t anything there,” she said. “We sent a runner and they talked to the postal person there at Barlow and there was nothing there for us.”
Michigan Court of Appeals judges in October struck down a lower court ruling that would’ve extended the deadline for ballots postmarked by Nov. 2. Those votes would’ve had 14 days to arrive and still be counted but the change was thrown out, meaning the state’s original deadline stood. The re-imposition of that deadline prompted Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to urge remote voters to drop their ballots off at their local jurisdictions starting Oct. 20 rather than sending them by mail to ensure they were in on time.
Tracy Wimmer, the secretary of state’s director of media relations, dismissed the video’s claims.
“Postmarks on ballots don’t matter in Michigan because they have to be physically received by 8 p.m. on Election Day,” she said in an email. “Any ballot that someone attempted to turn in yesterday, regardless of the postmark, would be rejected.”
It’s not unusual for late ballots to trickle in days or weeks after the election’s over, Scheele said.
She also batted aside another claim that absentee ballots filled out with markers didn’t count — they do, and any ballots that couldn’t be read by the tabulator machines were duplicated by poll workers with both Republican and Democratic observers watching. Same goes for any ballots where the ink bled through to the other side, she said.
Scheele said the vote-counting in Michigan is done and should continue elsewhere without interruption.
“It’s not just the president who’s on the ballot, all the local and state candidates are also on there,” she said. “We can’t stop counting the ballots, their race is just as important to find out who won, so all these ballots in all these states need to be counted.”
Morale among the 170 postal workers in the local union is quite good, Nichols said, despite controversy surrounding policies instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and subsequent lawsuits.
“We’re just like everyone else and concerned about the election but it’s been pretty calm and everybody is just trying to do their job,” Nichols said.
A call to Mara Schneider, FBI spokesperson for Michigan, was not returned.