Of all things, a brouhaha over the Postal Service.
Or rather two legitimate underlying issues at play: the sustainability of the Postal Service and reliability of remote voting.
The Postal Service is well regarded by the general public. The market for its services has changed over time, as the world has changed. Electronic delivery obviously can work better for some types of letters, notes, catalogs, magazine and even newspapers.
The postal service has a monopoly on first-class mail delivery of letters among a nationwide network of mailboxes. It also offers delivery options, such as larger express and priority envelopes, as well as larger boxed packages, competing with private services, such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.
Nonetheless, the Postal Service has been losing lots of money for years. Our elected officials have irresponsibly allowed this to happen. The recent bailout measure before Congress is just the latest general revenue subsidy that kicks the can down the road for streamlining the long-term operation.
There are plenty of commonsense ideas floating around to trim costs, such as cutting Saturday delivery, closing underused small town post offices, or renegotiating generous pay and retirement benefits.
But it’s a bureaucratic organization, and heavily politicized. So, elected officials get an earful from rural constituents whenever their local post office might be considered for consolidation. All the seven labor unions representing varieties of postal employee fight tooth and nail against anything that would trim labor spending back to something realistic for any other line of work.
The status quo continues until the organization’s next (annual) fiscal cliff.
Minor delivery delays are nothing new, either. It seems a mystery how at times it takes so long for some letters to get delivered, even across town, while others show up the next day.
Mail delivery is absolutely an essential service, and first-class delivery largely works fine for most mail, while it has become commonplace, in some fields more than others, to use priority delivery services for more critical documents.
For vital original documents, where time is of the essence, and the distance is short, such as for lawyers in downtown Columbia, some occasionally have their own employees hand deliver.
Do-it-yourself in localized cases is the absolute quickest and most verified delivery method. Big cities have bike couriers for hire to race through traffic jams.
There is also the old-fashioned certified mail. It costs a few bucks, but you get a receipt back that it was delivered.
The priority mail carriers offer delivery timing options like 3rd Day, 2nd Day, overnight, etc. You can require a signature of the recipient. They give you a tracking number so you can see online anytime 24/7 where your envelope is.
And this leads us to the remote voting issue.
Obviously voting in person — completion of your ballot and depositing at the physical polling place — is the best way to ensure they received your vote.
I did not realize until recently that 25% of voters typically vote absentee already. With COVID-19 concerns, surveys indicate about half would vote absentee this November.
You can get a ballot mailed to you ahead of time and hand-deliver it to the courthouse, or have a loved one deliver it there for you. Again, you can be sure it got there, and on time to be properly counted.
If voting by standard mail, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft offers reasonable advice to request your ballot from your county clerk at least two weeks before Election Day, and get it back in the local mail a week before. I mean, if pulling the proverbial lever to help elect the leader of the free world for the next four years, a concerned citizen can surely plan ahead 14 days.
If one is still unsure, why not be able to have it sent priority mail for a few bucks. Get a receipt back and rest easy. Even if one procrastinated until Halloween, send it overnight if you need to. Require the clerk’s office to sign as recipient.
In the end, we want voting to be reasonably accessible and convenient, but still have extra steps to ensure that voters are legit, votes get counted properly, and we can all have faith in the process.
As far as the Postal Service: OK, make sure they have the usual stable subsidies through this election season, then right after actually get serious about real reform, which is very long overdue.