Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service announced it will end Saturday delivery of first class mail in August making voters unreachable for the first time ever by mail on the Saturday and Sunday prior to a traditional general election.
While Americans don’t seem overly concerned by the change — 54% approve of the decision to stop Saturday delivery — it’s a game-changer for political campaigns and election officials that rely on the mail for voter contact.
This change in accessibility to voters by offline means opens the door for online innovation as the Internet continues to expand its roles for political persuasion and turnout.
The decision weighs heavily on both election officials and campaigns managers who recently have been expanding their use of Postal Service’s first class delivery options to increase election participation. Somewhat counter-intuitively, it’s campaigns online activity that’s driving increased demand for traditional mail.
While email may be decreasing the volume of persuasive mail sent, voters are eagerly taking advantage of a growing menu of remote services like voter registration and absentee voting that are initiated online but finished through the mail. States rely on the mail to transport live ballots to and from voters.
Some states like Oregon that conduct elections entirely by mail, have already expressed strong concern that voters wouldn’t get their ballots fast enough and that return ballots might stack up in the days before the election. As an increasing number of older Americans cross the digital divide, last minute online requests for election services may sharply increase and Boards of Elections will face new demands for online services that still require physical paper trails.
It’s certain that many states’ election officials will heavily protest the end of Saturday delivery or lobby their own legislatures strongly for laws expanding online election communications.
For campaign consultants, this move speeds the positive trend of directing more of their budgets towards online outreach. Funds earmarked for last minute mail can have greater impact online leveraging advertising opportunities and social media for voter turnout. More timely messages will be used that concurrently offer insight into engagement and penetration. These are huge advantages over offline mail campaigns that are often printed weeks ahead of their mail dates.
Imagine if every campaign transferred its Friday and Saturday mail budgets into programs similar to Obama’s 2012 targeted sharing efforts? Political organizations would see a huge magnification in the reach of get-out-the-vote campaigns with two major advantages over traditional mail and door knocks – political reach will be driven by friend recommendations and the penetration with target audiences can be measure directly and not just anecdotally.
So while we are waiting for election officials to take action on the end of Saturday mail service one thing is certain — campaigns need to plan for the change immediately and begin rethinking their traditional get-out-the-vote methods. If 2012 wasn’t enough motivation for Republicans to rethink turnout strategies… now we have one more.