V. Postal Updates
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) had recommendations for improving the process of voting by mail/absentee. One recommendation was to increase ballot tracking with the use of the USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb).
This 31-digit barcode can be serialized with unique numbers allowing voters to track the ballot as it is delivered to them as well as their voted ballot’s return to the election’s office. The IMb data is also informative in letting election officials know when the ballot was submitted to USPS by the voter and can be used in the absence of a legible postmark. This practice is on the rise with states such as Iowa passing legislation allowing for IMb and Indiana has a similar bill working through the legislature now.
But PCEA wanted wholesale change. In the early 90s the Postal Service designated an Official Election Material Mail logo for election officials to use in order to increase the visibility of election mail in processing. While the logo is still helpful in messaging to voters on what is official information and in recovery situations, with the increase in automation it’s impact has waned due to a reduction of manual handling of mail pieces.
For the last few years PECA has been working to get a ballot Service Type Identifier (STID). The use of a ballot STID will allow for the postal processing plants to know the volume of ballots moving through the system. It will allow them to create logic notifications should a set time elapse in-between scannings because a tranche of ballots have been misplaced or overlooked. It will allow them greater capacity in the location of ballots that may need expedited service as return deadlines near and the USPS does their hourly sweeps of the plants looking for ballots.
Although the use of voter-level ballot tracking is on the rise, it is made available to only a fraction of voters. A ballot STID can be used on virtually every ballot being mailed. It is an improved, data version of the Official Election Material Mail logo. This will benefit the tens of millions of voters who vote by mail.
This change was announced by the Postal Service at the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) meeting in Washington, DC.
(Tammy Patrick is a Senior Advisor with the Elections team at Democracy Fund. Prior to joining Democracy Fund Tammy served as a Democracy Project Fellow with the Bipartisan Policy center and was Commissioner on President Obama’s Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Additionally, she was a Federal Compliance Officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department for eleven years.)