Paper Cuts: Voting By Mail

I admit it.  I totally take the United States Postal Service for granted. Let’s think about it: you can send a first-class love letter to a long-distance sweetheart across the country and expect it to arrive in three precious days. One might calculate this as priceless. Nope. IT’S 45 CENTS! What a romantic bargain.  We have Netflix; the enablers of many Mad Men addictions. And then, much more importantly, we are provided with local election offices that can mail ballots to voters who submit a simple and timely request. Destination Democracy! Thanks, post office.

As it turns out, the recent penny increase in a first-class stamp has not closed the budget gap for the USPS. They are smothering under a behemoth deficit. In 2010 alone the USPS lost $5.1 billion. As early as this spring, the agency is slated to close up to 264 mail processing facilities across the country.  We can expect this consolidation to lower standards for first-class mail delivery, moving the next-day arrival of a stamped letter into extinction. According to Patrick Donahoe, postmaster general, the USPS has lost almost 27% of its first-class volume over the last three years.  We can assume their drop in business is due in large part to the 60% of us who are paying our bills on-line rather than mailing a papyrus check. 

What is particularly interesting is in an era when more of us go on-line to manage our bank accounts and personal communication and everything,  voting by mail has become increasingly popular.  For example, in the 2010 November election, 59% of California voters cast ballots by mail, a huge upswing from 2000 when 24% of California voters were voting by mail. Both Washington and Oregon are entirely dependent on the postal service for administering their elections.  So, what happens when your election mail misses a stiff deadline? Sadness. So, let’s take preemptive action to make sure ballots arrive fashionably on time to the official counting party!

The Voting Information Project can be of assistance!  In addition to offering the awesome polling place look-up gadget, we are in the final round of beta testing our Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) tool.  The FWAB is the official emergency absentee ballot and is accepted in every state.  It is used by overseas voters whose requested ballot is either late arriving to the voter or otherwise lost to the fourth dimension.  What is great about the VIP FWAB tool is that it displays for the voter the candidates who should appear on his or her ballot. It works similarly to the polling place locator; simply type in your voter registration address. This tool eliminates voters playing guessing games or seeking answers from busy election administrators.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty cool and very relevant.  Marc Burris, the Chief Information Officer at the North Carolina State Board of Elections, has these encouraging words to share:

By using the Voting Information Project FWAB, we were able to provide a ballot for UOCAVA [Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act] voters who weren’t registered without much effort. VIP has helped me help them.

The FWAB is so much better with populated candidate lists. UOCAVA voters often don’t know exactly who they’re authorized to vote for, but with the FWAB gadget voters don’t miss anybody and aren’t totally confused. Voters are able to make better informed decisions.

Stay tuned for updates!  Stock up on stamps!

Michelle Shim