Tracking Your Election Mail: It May Not Be What You Expect

By David Davoust
Robis Elections

First, the good news. You can use USPS tools to track all of your election mail including ballots.

By utilizing the USPS Informed Visibility (IV-MTR) tools you can add IMB tracking to each mail piece and then use either the USPS API or a secure file transfer (sftp) data export to get the tracking data for each piece.

This data can be very helpful for communicating with your voters and answering questions about delayed mail, etc. With some programming, or one of several commercial products, you can even use this information to provide an automatic lookup so voters can see where their ballot is as it travels to and from your elections office.

Now, the bad news. The level of tracking detail provided by the USPS system may not be what you are expecting.
In the age of services like Amazon and DoorDash, we are becoming accustomed to knowing exactly when an item is delivered. Often, we will get texts saying, “your item will arrive in 30 minutes”, or “your item has been delivered.” Sometimes we even get a photo of the item sitting on our doorstep.

While that is exciting, it is not how the USPS informed visibility works. The IV-MTR system was originally developed by the post office for its own internal use. Much of the data is meant to show items entering and leaving USPS facilities. It was not meant to track when a letter is actually delivered but rather provide information about a mix of logical, assumed, and actual events.
Not all individual mail pieces are scanned by mail carriers as they are delivered so most of your pieces will not receive accurate final delivery data.

Instead, utilizing the USPS systems to their fullest can show you when an item is received by the post office as well as each scan as it moves from post office to post office (if applicable). The system will even provide an expected delivery date, although again, that is truly just an estimate and does not reflect that actual piece’s movement through the system.

For more information on the USPS IV-MTR system, click here.

One warning about getting help from the USPS. The official website provides a tremendous number of resources for helping you explore the mail tracking universe. However, the site also includes a lot of outdated information. You may find conflicting resources.

So, while you should avail yourself of this information to get an overview of the process, you should always work directly with your USPS Business Mail Entry Unit to understand the latest regulations. In particular, note that each piece you intend to mail needs to be approved by a mail piece design analyst (MDA).

Be sure to involve them early in the process in case it affects your layout, printing, etc. In our experience, the post office is a great partner to work with. They want ballots to be delivered properly and they want to help you. Keep them involved at every step of the way for a smoother election-mailing experience.

Finally, if all this seems too confusing, there are many ballot mailing vendors who are experts in navigating the USPS systems and in making sure you not only get the best postage rates, but that everything is designed and mailed in a way that makes the most of the postal system.

David Davoust is President of Robis Elections in Wheaton, IL. Robis Elections is a full service election mailing service provider. To learn more call 844-842-7533 or click here.

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