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What You Need to Know When Planning For Vote-By-Mail

Veteran Vote-By-Mail Service Provider Rich Gebbie Discusses Challenges County’s Face

gebbie rich

Many counties and state election officials plan to quickly implement a robust, accurate, and timely Vote-By-Mail (or Absentee) Ballot program. However, few have the depth of experience to confidently plan, source, and execute the program.

“You probably have a print vendor that can do your ballots, but you need to find one that could do your ballots plus, do your envelopes — and it’s the exterior envelope and the interior envelope — and then can do the inserts and can assemble them, and then has a relationship with a postal vendor that can get those out,” said Judd Choate, Director of Elections of Colorado in TPM Talking Points Memo.

No one know this better than Rich Gebbie, CEO, of Midwest Direct. His company has managed the production and distribution of Vote-By-Mail ballots for counties in Ohio. Over the last six months, Midwest Direct has served over 36 counties with 5 million ballots Election Day ballots and over 200,000 Vote-By-Mail ballots. His team works directly with the Board of Election officials to create, produce and deliver Absentee ballots.

We asked him to share some of the insights his team has gained through ballot production in this interview:

OMG: Rich, normal election cycles are challenging. Election 2020 brings with it all the regular challenges along with new urgency, regulations, and demand. Can the marketplace meet the demand for Absentee and Vote-By-Mail ballots?

GEBBIE: Election timelines changed multiple times due to COVID-19. I feel bad for many of the counties trying to pull this together. Many have never prepared for this before. Some have, but on a smaller scale to cover snow birds or absentee ballots. Many feel like it’s a scramble to get this done quickly.

OMG: What are some of the major challenges you help counties overcome?

GEBBIE: Mainly, they don’t have the experience to quickly spec, vet, and choose a quality vendor. They don’t know the specifications for the outer envelope, the ID envelope, or the return envelope, and they may not have an established relationship with the post office.

They may be unsure about what data must be included in their barcodes so the post office recognizes this as a ballot, not marketing mail.

They may have data, but it may not be structured in the format for a proper vote-by-mail specifications. Beyond that, they may not know how to add important tracking information to help them gauge inbound mail, such as using Informed Visibility. We can help educate and guide them through all of that.

OMG: Are mailing ballots more complicated than a regular mailing?

GEBBIE: Because there is an official ballot in the envelope, the quality steps are more critical than the usual direct mail piece. Each envelope can contain a specific ballot destined to the person and address. It may contain specific instructions about what and/or who is on the ballot, as the issue — or the person — may have withdrawn from the election after the ballot was certified.

At Midwest, we track and camera-verify each step from the printing to the inserting. We check each piece to the final address and person’s name against a database before it can be mailed.

OMG: What about help with Supply Chain issues like procuring paper?

GEBBIE: Yes, we help most of our clients with sourcing and managing the materials needed. Because we’re sourcing at high volumes, it’s easier for us to get it done.

OMG: When making a RFP for ballot services, what items should be included?

GEBBIE: Components you may want to include in an RFP depend on your requirements. They can include: 1) Ballot Request postcard; 2) Vote-By-Mail or Absentee Ballot; 3) an Approved USPS Mailing Envelope; 4) a Voter ID envelope for the voter to insert their marked ballot and seal; and 5) Return Envelope with your Political STID.
Additionally you may request information on the vendor’s past experience with producing Vote-By-Mail and proof the vendor has the equipment and staff to execute your program.

OMG: How does Midwest help Boards of Elections navigate Vote-By-Mail?

GEBBIE: The team has assembled a physical sample kit to help counties understand what they need and the specifications for each piece.

For more information on planning your VBM or Absentee ballot production and distribution, contact Midwest Direct (click here) or call 1-800-686-6666.

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