Is the Mail Slowing Down? Adapting Nonprofit Elections for Mail Delays

Elections are vital to the success of your nonprofit. Mailed ballots are the standard for many nonprofits to send ballots, voting instructions, annual meeting notices, candidate bios, and more to their members leading up to an election.

While mail-in ballots were once a reliable way to host elections on a national level, today’s USPS isn’t moving as fast as it once did. If it feels like it takes longer for ballots to arrive at their destination and return to your headquarters, it isn’t just your imagination. The USPS Q1 2024 report showed that mail is running slower nationally. In fact, just 68% of mail arrived on time in January 2024, which is 20% lower than last year.

In this guide, we’ll explain why mail delays affect nonprofit elections and offer tips to help your nonprofit overcome mail delays.

Why Is the Mail So Slow? Four Factors Contributing to Mail-in Delays

So, why is mail operating slower nationwide and in almost every district? Several factors contribute to these delays, including:

  • USPS staff shortages: USPS is struggling with significant staff shortages, which leads to delays in everything from mail processing to delivery. Fewer employees mean the existing workforce has to handle more mail, leading to slower service.
  • Mailing locations: Mail delivery efficiency can vary greatly depending on the location. Rural areas and smaller towns may have fewer postal facilities and longer distances to cover, resulting in slower mail delivery than urban areas.
  • Postage rates: Postage prices have an indirect impact on how quickly the USPS can process and deliver mail. Proposed rate increases for both first-class and marketing mail affect the volume and speed of mail processing, although these rates are causing a pinch for member organizations. Organizations can expect to pay as much as an eight percent increase in the coming years to help USPS address its service shortfalls.
  • Higher package volume: The popularity of online shopping has created a surge in demand for package delivery. An increased number of packages causes delays in regular mail services because postal workers are required to sort more items than ever—at even lower staff levels.

How Mail Delays Affect Voter Participation

Mail delays can affect voter participation in various ways:

  • Members don’t get ballots on time: When the mail is delayed, voters may not receive their ballot before the deadline for submission. This can result in a lower turnout because some voters may not have enough time to fill out and return their ballots.
  • Nonprofits receive completed ballots after the deadline: If you receive ballots after the cutoff date, your bylaws might require you to disqualify those votes. This delay means that even if voters do everything correctly, nonprofits can’t count these votes due to postal delays.
  • Disenfranchise members who don’t get ballots in time: Disenfranchisement is a big deal for members and could cause compliance issues. Not only that, but it undermines the democratic process by preventing eligible voters from having their say in the election.

USPS delays can cause countless headaches for nonprofit organizations. Instead of allowing these delays to derail your nonprofit elections, operate with the assumption that the mail will take longer than usual to ensure a fair, democratic process.

Six Tips To Overcome Slow Mail Delivery for Nonprofit Elections

Nonprofits can’t do much about slower mail processing and delivery times. However, you can make a few changes to your voting process to account for nonprofit election delays. Follow these tips to minimize election disruptions caused by mail delays.

    1. Switch to Online Voting for Nonprofits

Adding a digital voting option to your mail-in election is an easy way to avoid any headaches with delayed mail. It might sound like a major overhaul, but providers like Survey & Ballot Systems (SBS) specialize in helping nonprofits go digital without the growing pains.

With online voting, you can send out ballots or voting instructions via email to ensure they reach members quickly and reliably. You can also use SMS (texting) to provide voting links. For enhanced security and easier ballot access, a single sign-on (SSO) setup will also simplify the voting process by allowing members to use their existing credentials from your website to securely access the voting platform.

     2. Offer In-Person Voting

If your bylaws allow it, facilitate in-person voting during meetings. You can do this in person by providing QR codes that members scan to vote instantly. You can also set up online voting for members to complete at events or at your headquarters.

     3. Mail Ballots Earlier

Send out ballots well in advance of the voting deadline to accommodate potential mail delays. Not all bylaws will allow sending ballots earlier, but this is one of the easiest ways to overcome USPS delays and (hopefully) give voting members enough time to vote by mail.

     4. Extend the Voting Period

Consider pushing up your nonprofit election timeline if online voting isn’t an option. Give yourself a generous buffer that allows members plenty of time to cast their ballots and mail them back in. Allow a longer period for members to return their ballots, ensuring that slow mail delivery doesn’t prevent their votes from being counted.

A letter takes an average of three days to arrive at a cross-country destination. Members need at least a week to fill out their ballot and then an additional three days for the ballot to return to headquarters. The process takes two weeks at a minimum, and that’s assuming everything goes well and there are no labor- or weather-related issues. When in doubt, extend the voting period for as long as possible to improve voter participation.

     5. Invest in Promotion and Member Awareness

Some nonprofit bylaws prohibit changing election timelines. If that’s the case, member education is your best defense against mail-in ballot delays.

Increase your efforts to inform and remind members about the voting process, deadlines, and the importance of timely participation. Use newsletters, social media, and other communication channels to decrease the odds of disenfranchisement. You can’t prevent all late ballots, but educational campaigns can certainly improve participation rates.

     6. Set up Ballot Tracking

The great thing about shipping mail-in ballots via USPS is that you have the option to track these ballots. Use services that track mailed ballots, ensuring you can monitor their status and confirm delivery.

Survey & Ballot Systems offers ballot tracking and more. This add-on service is only available for outbound mail, but it’s great for improving the visibility of your ballot mailing process.

We also generate a daily participation report on ballot receipt and participation rates. These reports are another smart way to get more insight into your organization’s election processes. You can even use this data to inform timelines for future elections, adding more buffer time as needed based on past mail-in ballot data.

Ensure Every Vote Counts: Adapt to Mail Delays

You can’t control the speed of mail delivery, but nonprofit organizations can take proactive steps to ensure the voting process is smooth and efficient. Embracing digital voting is the easiest way to sidestep USPS delays, but that isn’t an option for all organizations. In-person options, timeline adjustments, educational campaigns, and tracking mailed ballots are all effective strategies for overcoming the challenges of mail delays.

Whether you want to go all-in on digital elections or need help with mail-in ballot tracking, Survey & Ballot Systems is here for you. Learn how SBS’s turnkey voting solutions give every member a voice.