I. In Focus This Week
National Postal Forum 2018
Who? What? Where? When? & Why?
By Tammy Patrick, senior advisor, elections
The Democracy Fund
Last week, thousands of thousands of mailers, shippers, postal employees and management gathered in San Antonio for the 50th NPF. The event featured more than 130 workshops and sessions on how to best utilize postal delivery and products.
For the last five Forums, I have had the opportunity to share with attendees the critical role that vendors and USPS play in “Delivering Democracy” to the American Electorate.
This year was different.
It was even better.
For the first time there was an entire day of election mail content at the Forum curated specifically for election administrators, there was a discounted day-rate for election officials, and outreach to inform the community about the event.
“Dan Bentley and team were smart to create a special ‘election mail’ summit at the National Postal Forum where election officials and the USPS could meet to discuss our common objectives. With more jurisdictions turning to vote-by-mail, these conversations are even more important,” said Judd Choate, Colorado election director.
Choate shared how Colorado utilizes National Change of Address services in their voter registration list maintenance efforts in an agenda that seamlessly blended shared experiences from election offices with vendor perspectives and Postal input.
Attendees from more than a dozen states (even though we are in the midst of primary season) had the opportunity to hear from vice presidents in five different areas of the Postal Service, but also from the Deputy Post Master Ron Stroman himself.
Stroman’s personal commitment to election mail is becoming legendary within the election administration community; he understands the important role they play: for tens of millions of U.S. voters they don’t get their ballot from a pollworker, but rather, their postal carrier.
Kathleen Conway, city clerk for Rockville, Maryland had never been to NPF before but thought it was important as her jurisdiction will be the first municipality in Maryland to conduct all-mail elections.
“I know that the USPS is committed to mail delivery. My surprise was hearing the overwhelming commitment of the USPS with Election Mail. Deputy USPS Postmaster General Ron Stroman’s pledge by the USPS ‘to do everything in their power to ensure every voter who wants to vote by mail is able to do so … and to ensure ballots are safe and secure’ was very powerful to me,” Conway said. “The USPS is committed to delivering the mail, which I believe is common knowledge, however I had not heard their commitment to Election Mail delivery and security expressed in this manner.”
Indeed, a commitment to partnership and collaboration that has been a constant with their promotion and receptivity to electionmail.org — the online tool for election administrators to convey issues or challenges that they are facing at the local level.
Ballot delivery and tracking was also a big topic at NPF.
David Bjerke, Falls Church, Virginia registrar of Voters shared his experiences in implementing ballot tracking in 2017.
“Neighborhood polling places are expensive, time limited, and can have long lines, all of which decrease turnout,” Bjerke said. “As more places consider the vote-by-mail/vote-at-home ballot delivery system, costs will decrease, turnout will increase, and with technology like ballot tracking (Intelligent Mail barcodes aka IMb), confidence in this system will increase.”
NPF is the perfect place to network and discuss some of the challenges our voters face globally. One panel, moderated by David Beirne of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) included panelist Charles Martin, management analyst for the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA).
“I came to this year's NPF to share experiences on how difficult Military deployments and frequent address changes are on updating voting and address lists,” Martin explained. “To inform the stakeholders on processes and procedures being used to mitigate barriers to casting ballots,”
Martin went on to highlight the importance of relationships “…To hopefully, illuminate how critical maintaining relationships between stakeholders (Service Members, FVAP, Election Officials, and Postal providers) is to the entire election process and securing the right to vote for all who are eligible; And finally, learn how we can all work together to improve the reliability of the voting and mailing processes involved.”
For my part, I wanted to emphasize how important effective communication is in serving our voters well. The attendees and panelists made this point an easy one.
As Kim Waltz from Cathedral put it “…[I]t was well worth our time to attend and listen first hand to the other presentations as well as the challenges and concerns of the election mail officials across the country”.
“I’m excited to work with our partners at USPS to design a customer centric process for ballot delivery - one that is efficient for Voters and one that achieves operational efficiencies for local election offices and USPS. Better service in an efficient way for our customers is a win-win!” Amber McReynolds, Denver director of elections.
In addition to the electionmail program, NPF offers workshops on mailpiece design, address hygiene, marketing strategies, undeliverable mail, and the numerous data products that can save time and money in a busy election office. (Are you still hiring temps/paying overtime for staff to key in address change data from those yellow stickers? You can get that data directly without re-keying! Look into ACS, thank me later.)
I asked election officials at NPF if they would recommend it to other officials. From officials just getting started in the vote-by-mail “business” to those who have been doing it for a while, they all said yes.
Pam Anderson, who serves as the executive director of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association said the forum is helping her inform her membership since the state moved to the vote-by-mail/vote center model.
"The NPF Election forum was a great opportunity for me to take back important information on serving voters to our association” Anderson said. “It also provided important resources and contacts to enhance our very important partnership with the USPS.”
And Janice Case, from King County, Washington where they’ve been voting entirely by mail since 2011, USPS is a huge partner and key component of making vote by mail successful and the county is always looking for ways to further improve the process whether it is improving the county’s relationship with USPS or utilizing new tools like Informed Delivery.
“I’m so glad they have added this component to their NPF conference and hope they will continue to do so,” Case said.
NPF 2019 will be May 5-8th in Indianapolis. We hope to see you there.
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