What We Learned From the 2020 Election
November 18, 2020   Dave Lewis

I hope everybody enjoyed the election – we can hardly wait for the next!  Well we probably can wait.  Please make us wait.

The Postal Service and the mailing industry played a big role in this election – both good and bad.  Suddenly everyone was interested in Postal Reform.  If the government is just handing out money, just put USPS in for $25 billion, OK?  Didn’t happen, and now with ballots – mostly – out of the news, I imagine folks will stop picketing our local Post Office with signs saying “Save the Postal Service.”  We shall resume our place in the back of the line for the next news cycle.

In no particular order, here are a few of the things we learned this election cycle:

  • Vote-by-mail is here, and it’s not going away.  Boards of election are going to be looking for ways to secure that the votes they receive are valid, and documented.  This turned out to be a big role for us in those jurisdictions where we were tracking ballots.  We could tell when and where a ballot was mailed back from the IMb we provided. 
  • There are a LOT of elections.  You know that elections are run by the states, but it really breaks down much more than that.  Michigan alone has more than 1,600 elections – every township, borough, and anthill holds its own election, although the state coordinates the voter files. 
  • Not all mail is treated the same.  This was a little bit of a surprise, though I guess it shouldn’t have been.  Most of the mail we track is commercial mail – it is properly prepared, barcoded, and presorted.  First-Class Mail gets pretty consistent handling and delivery when it is well prepared.  That birthday card you sent to Aunt Hazel?  Not so much.  When we worked with NBC News stations on a mail test they were doing, we found delivery for those items to be consistently much slower.  It seems they tend to go into a non-DPS mail stream that the carrier needs to hand sort before going on their route – it seems like that part of the operation gets backed up.  Most of the delays we saw happened at the delivery unit. 
  • Ballot mail is in a class of its own.  Ballot mail – both outgoing and returning had their own unique STID (Service Type ID) identifying them in the IMb.  Locally it was being delivered consistently in a day or two, and even nationally generally beating service standards.  Unfortunately, in spite of this great service, the Postal Service kind of shot themselves in the foot by not tracking some of the shortcuts.
  • Ballots were delivered much better than even USPS reported.  The Postal Service was so intent on getting ballots delivered on time, they were often diverting mail early in the sortation process to expedite it.  So concentrations of ballots coming into their delivery area were often diverted and treated as FIRM mail.  This is a nice way to handle mail fast (if Ford Credit has a PO Box in the facility, it may be diverted in the same way), but it bypasses the final “stop-the-clock” operations that tell us and the Informed Visibility system when mail is being finalized for delivery.  So, to IV it looks undelivered – bummer.  That’s why you saw reports of 10% - 20% ballots “undelivered”.  IV is how USPS measures that.
  • Marketing Mail did surprisingly well.  We warned folks not to count on mail being delivered right around the election, but as it turned out, delivery remained pretty good for SCF entered mail.  Red tag mail got priority, of course, but we didn’t hear any horror stories from other mailers.  Origin entered mail moved more slowly, but that has been a challenge since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.  We strongly advocate drop ship where the volume justifies it, or commingling.
  • There is a lot of opportunity for MSPs in VBM.  Voting authorities learned that the mail business isn’t as easy as they thought.  If an MSP can provide a reliable accountable system, there can be great opportunities there.  But now is the time to start exploring that business – these decisions aren’t made quickly.  You will definitely need a reliable tracking partner – tracking is essential with this mail.  We have that covered for you.  Even comminglers were able to add to business by presorting ballots for local jurisdictions. 

So, go ahead and start your countdown clock for November 8, 2022. It’ll be here before you know it!