Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Fuse Has Been Lit

This morning we're preparing to mail about 1,000 advance ballots for the February 26 election, the first day we can mail ballots, and also reviewing a mail-ballot election schedule requested by a school district.

It's happening as the Postal Service is announcing that it will stop delivering mail on Saturday.

Forget the "future of voting," as many want to discuss.  The present is drying up.

This follows yesterday's election administration news, where the New York Times summed up efforts related to reduce long lines at polling places.

One method of reducing lines is already in motion--eliminating polling places.  We're facing the possibility of losing several schools as polling places.

The Times article quotes a survey of waiting times per state in the presidential election  (Kansas was at 11.5 minutes) .  That same survey also looked nationally at voters' confidence that their vote would count as cast and only 56 percent who voted by mail answered affirmatively, compared to 67 percent at the polls and 65 percent in advance. 

In this same survey, 18 percent of the respondents said they had requested a ballot by mail but didn't get it.  These were national numbers, but I think they at least suggest that the Postal Service has more issues than just financial issues.

Without Saturday postal delivery, Johnson County voters who get ballots issued on the last day allowed by law (the Friday before the election) will have no way to turn them around and know they were delivered by Tuesday. There likely will be others who will find they need the Saturday delivery 10 days before the election to get their ballot before going out of town the following Monday morning and now otherwise will be unable to vote in an election.

In my view, eliminating any day of delivery is a mistake.  It's the beginning of what I've termed in other industries as the Light the Fuse Strategy.

I first coined the Light the Fuse Strategy when evaluating options while working as director of strategic planning at Sprint 10 years ago. We saw voice calls moving to calls over data facilities and wireline minutes shifting to wireless minutes.

We saw a large part of our revenues and margins evaporating, but we didn't stop letting people call on Saturdays. We recognized that shrinking to survive was not the answer.

Jettisoning an unprofitable part of the business can be a smart strategic move.  But shrinking to survive, or worse--thinking you are shrinking to grow--can be a terrible approach. Look at US News and Newsweek.  Those magazines still exist, virtually.  The fuse is nearing the end for them as well.
Here in town, how many of you remember The Olathe Daily News?  I remember a few columns in the Olathe News over the last few years that said the paper was changing its delivery schedule, but, not to worry, it was going to be stronger than ever.  

Now, the Daily News is a tiny insert in the Saturday Kansas City Star, which itself has shrunk to the point that the Monday edition often could benefit from some pebbles in the bag when tossed on driveways to keep the paper from blowing down the street.
I'm not pretending there are easy answers for what the Postal Service is going through.   But I do believe that they've created a victim mentality instead of creatively addressing the problem.

They have a huge competency in that they go to every home six days a week. Surely that can be exploited within other industries.

Instead, the Postal Service is eroding its core competency.
I believe, just like the transitions in the newspapers that used to be daily (that also went to homes, by the way), delivery stopping on Saturday is just the beginning.   The fuse will have been lit.

Eventually, mail will only be delivered, for instance, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Every change will decrease the importance of the Postal Service and, in turn, reduce the mail to be delivered, leading to the spiral.  The fuse will be burning.

It's rough for us because elections is an industry that is actually looking to increase the use of the Postal Service.  I can't think of another industry that is in that mode. 

So, the Future of Voting is now.  We are in the future.

Unfortunately, that's not intended to be some sort of inspirational message. 

In elections, we often deal with yesterday's issues.  And, we look at equipment issues as future issues.  The number one future issue is pretty basic--how are people going to vote in next presidential election?
In Johnson County, 340,000 people will vote for president in 2016.  Right now, I don't know how we will accomplish that.

I don't know that I will have enough sites available for polling places.  I don't know that voter confidence will continue with the mail service.  I don't even know what service level we'll get from the Postal Service.

Vote centers (mega polling places) are more and more likely, but they will be expensive sites to lease.

I'm not necessarily a proponent for Internet Voting, but I'm not an opponent, and it's quickly becoming the gorilla in the room.

I've often heard the proverbial gorilla described as a 600-pound gorilla and also as an 800-pound gorilla.  I've never known which weight was correct, but my hunch now is that the 600-pounder will become an 800-pounder as the sound of the latest burning fuse gets louder.