The Election – Is Success Only On The Back Of The USPS?

By Paul Johnson, President CMS – Complete Mailing Solutions

Election 2020

A lot of focus has been placed on the USPS for the success of mail-in ballots on the election.  Accusations of fraud, inability to handle volumes, sabotage and more have been made.  In reality, the USPS is only one of three entities that are involved in the voting process. Read on to find out who the other players are and how they figure into not only this election but all others.

The Government -States/Counties

Government is responsible for a number of areas related to mailed ballots:

  1. Keeping voter rolls up-to-date
    States/Counties are responsible for keeping voter information up-to-date. This includes:
  • Adding new voters
  • Changing addresses
  • Removing voters (e.g., moved out of state, deceased, etc.)
40 million people move

Databases such as Dept of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration and Election Registration and Information Center (for member States) are used.  Mail list integrity depends on how frequently updates are made and how close to mail dates.  Accuracy varies from state to state.  States that regularly use mail ballots (such as Colorado) have an effective process to keep the voter rolls in good shape.

Note:  Accuracy of mailing lists directly impacts mailed ballots.  Inaccurate information results in voters not receiving ballots, ballots delivered to the wrong address or delivered to deceased individuals. 

2. Issuing ballots
Individual States/Counties choose how ballots will be delivered.  First-Class Mail is more expensive and is delivered in 2-5 days; Marketing Mail (including non-profit mail) takes 3-10 days but is less expensive.  States/Counties prefer Marketing Mail to save taxpayer money.
Some States/Counties knowingly send ballots to voters even if they have moved out of state.  This can result in fraud.

Note: Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, has indicated the Postal Service will deliver all ballots as First-Class even though States will pay for Marketing Mail rates.

3. Educating Voters
States advise constituents when ballots must be returned to be included in the vote, which varies by State.  There are two options – ballots must either be postmarked by election day or received by election day. It is the State’s responsibility to effectively inform voters what is required.

NOTE:  States must educate voters on ballot requirements and advise them to return ballots at least 10 days before election day.

4. Counting ballots
Counties automate the process of opening and matching ballot signatures.  States that do not typically handle mail in ballots must acquire this equipment – virtually impossible at the last minute. 

Note:  the USPS is not involved in vote counting, only delivering ballots. 

Bottom line:  The quality of State’s mailing lists directly impacts who receives ballots.  How well they educate constituents regarding when ballots must be received impacts the vote. Counting votes is up to the States and will be slowed based on available equipment.  The USPS has no control over these issues.


Printers produce approximately 200 million ballots for the election.  There are a limited number of printers who can handle such large-scale efforts and have both the security and quality control measures in place.  Without a high level of quality control, duplicate ballots can be generated and mailed.   

Bottom line:  Duplicate ballots can be put in the mail stream if quality controls are not in place.   


The Postal Service is the caboose of this train and their performance is impacted by the above factors.  Luckily, they are highly automated and can handle enormous volumes.  Consider these facts:

  • USPS handles 45 million single piece First-Class letters* daily.
  • The volume of holiday cards (1.3 billion**) far exceeds the mail-in ballot (200 million) in about the same timeframe.
  • First-Class letter volumes have declined (16.2% from 2016 to 2019*). the USPS has plenty of capacity to handle the increased volume from mailed election ballots.
  • First-Class mail is processed exclusively by equipment, which speeds up processing.  All pieces are sorted and put in correct sequence for the mail carrier to deliver.

Admittedly, there has been some operational issues affecting mail delivery since July of this year.  There are a number of factors impacting USPS performance:

Did you know - mail
  • COVID-19 – over 40,000 USPS workers have been affected by the Corona virus due either to acquiring the illness or being quarantined due to exposure from a co-worker.
  • Air transport slowdown – the pandemic reduced the number of flights that move the mail.
  • Unions – restrictions do not allow the USPS to move people from one position to another to cover absent personnel.  There have also been soft strikes (e.g., blue flu) to protest the elimination of overtime at the Post Office.

Bottom line:  the Postal Service is more than capable of delivering high volumes of mail on a daily basis.   Postmaster DeJoy has reversed planned changes at the USPS until after the election to ensure ballots are delivered on time.  Deliveries have started to improve. 

For more information debunking a number of accusations leveled at the Postal Service, check out this blog:  Postal myths debunked

Bottom line, success is dependent on all parties involved, not just the USPS.

*2019 USPS Postal Facts

**Dec 10, 2019, About the Business, Season’s Greetings

Other resources:

National Association of Secretaries of State Voter registration maintenance requirements:

How To Read A Nixie Label

By Paul Johnson, President CMS – Complete Mailing Solutions

Nixie Labels- Mysterious Hieroglyphics or Useful Information?

In our series focusing on how to reduce returned mail, we thought it would be useful to unveil the mystery of how to read the yellow nixie label on returned mail pieces.

Nixie labels are chockful of information. Let’s start with getting acquainted with the USPS systems that generate these labels.

The Postal Service utilizes two systems for forwarding and redirecting mail. Each system will generate a Nixie label:Undelivered envelope with yellow sticker

  1. PARS=Postal Automated Redirection System
  2. CFS=Computerized Forwarding System
    • RFS=Remote Forwarding System (a subset of CFS)

The Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS) identifies and redirects forwardable, machinable letter mail during processing. It handles 2 categories of mail: Carrier Identified Forwards (CIF) and Return to Sender (RTS).
The Postal Service uses the Computerized Forwarding System (CFS) to handle mail that is non-machineable, including letters, flats and parcels. There are two categories that CFS handles: Forwards and Nixies (Return to Sender).
Very simply, these two systems sort and process the mail, which includes:

  • Identifying whether the letter, flat or parcel has a correct address and is mailable
  • If not, if there is a Change of Address (COA) on record and can be forwarded
  • Determining whether the mail piece is Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA)
  • If it is undeliverable, following directions given from the Ancillary Endorsements, i.e.:
    • Forward the mail piece and notifying the sender
    • Return the mail piece with new address information (via the Nixie label)
    • Destroy the mail piece
  • Complete processing and delivering the mail

The Nixie labels generated by these two systems provide valuable information to the sender regarding why the mail piece cannot be delivered. Some of the reasons mail is Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) that are mentioned on the Nixie label include whether:

  • A new mailing address exists for the recipient (a Change of Address has been filed)
  • There is no forwarding address (often because the recipient did not fill out a Change Of Address (COA) with the Post Office
  • The Change of Address has expired (COA’s cover a one-year period)
  • There are errors in the address
    • Missing information
    • Incorrect information
  • The address does not exist (Address Unknown)
  • The location is vacant
  • A mail receptacle is not available

Additional details are listed on the label. The illustrations below identify the specific information that return labels contain for each of these two systems
(Click on each graphic for better visibility).

CFS RFS Nixie Label with arrows

Nixie labels are a valuable tool to keep your database up-to-date and ensure money is not spent on mail that will never reach the intended recipient. Ancillary Endorsements also play a helpful role. You can read more about Ancillary Endorsements in our earlier post: Ancillary endorsements – What are they? Why use them?
Contact us today for information on tools to reduce the number of Nixie labels you are receiving – 303-761-0681 or

Ancillary Endorsements -What are they? Why Use them?

By Paul Johnson, President CMS – Complete Mailing Solutions

Ancillary Endorsements – Why do I care?

If you’re like most companies sending various communications to customers or prospects, you’re faced with an unfortunate fact – your mail doesn’t always reach it’s intended recipient without an ancillary endorsement. With over 11%* of the U.S. population moving each year, and 20% of new businesses failing in their first year+, keeping your mailing list up-to-date is an on-going challenge.
Given these stats, we have to ask: Why would you put anything in the mail if you weren’t 100% sure it would be delivered (especially invoices, statements, checks, etc.) or it would arrive with postage due? How would your Customers react?
We highly recommend you cleanse your database with CASS certified software annually, at a minimum. If for some reason that cannot happen, you’re next line of defense is to use Ancillary Service Endorsements on your envelopes.

What Are Ancillary Service Endorsements?

Ancillary Endorsements allow you to obtain an addressee’s new address (if a change-of-address has been filed with the USPS) or the reason why mail cannot be delivered. It tells the USPS how you want mail handled if there is a problem with the recipient and the address. For example whether you wish your mailpiece to be forwarded to the recipient’s new address, returned to you with updated address information, or destroyed. The endorsements include one keyword: “Electronic,” “Address,” “Return,” “Change,” or “Forwarding,” followed by “Service Requested.” Depending upon which endorsement you use, you’ll receive new address information, either on each mailpiece (via yellow “nixie” sticker) when it’s returned to you, or by a separate card if you want your mail piece forwarded.

Some of these services are free, others are not; for example, First-Class and Priority Mail do not incur fees for forwarding even without an endorsement (although you won’t know there’s a new address), whereas Marketing Mail and Package Services do incur fees for forwarding. The mailer is obligated to pay any applicable fees for forwarding, return and separate address notification charges. Check out the USPS Ancillary Service Endorsements Quick Service Guide for an overview of the specific endorsements available, actions and time limitations for each.

What Is That Yellow Sticker?

Ancillary Endorsements (e.g., Address Service Requested) alerts the Post Office what to do with your mail. The yellow “nixie” sticker on your mail piece alerts you of address changes and issues, such as:

  • The recipient is no longer at the address (unknown, moved, deceased). Notice may or may not have been given to the Post Office.
  • There is missing or incorrect address information (missing apartment or suite number, wrong city or ZIP code).
  • Mail was refused by the recipient
  • No postage was affixed

Why Use Ancillary Endorsements?

The use of Ancillary Endorsements initiates the flow of information from the Post Office, which will help you better manage your communications and avoid communicating with someone who is no longer there. Other benefits include:

  • Timely Information – you’ll receive updated information about the recipient, which will allow you to ensure future mailings are deliverable.
  • Improved Receivables – correct addresses ensure there is no delay in invoices or statements reaching recipients, which helps improve cash flow.
  • Lower Costs – having fresh address information ensures your mail gets to its recipient the first time, every time. No need to reprint and resend – a savings of $25 or more each mail piece! Surprised? See our earlier post on The Cost of Undeliverable Mail .
  • Clean Data – eliminates mailing to someone that may no longer be able to use your services because they have moved from your service area.

You’ll be able to better manage your database and mailings with the help of Ancillary Service Endorsements. 

Best Practices

We recommend the following:

  • CASS certify your data at least 1/x per year.
  • Print envelopes with endorsements. If your current envelope supplier doesn’t know about endorsements, call us about our envelope printing services and assistance with Endorsements.
  • Use your postage meter for Endorsements on the fly – call us to find out how.

Contact us today for information on other tools to keep your mailing lists up-to-date as well as help in determining the best Ancillary Service Endorsements for your mail – 303-761-0681 or

* U.S. Census Bureau, 2016 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC)
+ Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Employment Dynamics, March 2016

The Cost of Undeliverable Mail

By Paul Johnson, President CMS – Complete Mailing Solutions

How Much Is It?

Have you stopped to consider the real financial impact of undeliverable mail?
We’ve blogged about how mail piece design can impact deliverability of your mail and provided guidelines that will help ensure your mail gets delivered. If you are like a lot of companies, once a mail piece is returned, you simply change the address and resend it – right? Just more paper and postage costs, that’s all – but is it?

Undelivered envelope with yellow sticker

Undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail is a costly problem for both mailers and the Postal Service alike. In 2016 alone, nearly 6.6 billion mail pieces were undeliverable*. Mailers spend over $20 billion on UAA mail, while direct costs to the USPS is over $1.5 billion/year**.

If you think the only cost for undeliverable mail is reprinting and remailing costs, you’re in for a big surprise. There’s much more to the story than that. For mailers, there are both tangible and intangible costs related to undeliverable mail:


  • Statements and late notices, if applicable
  • Labor to prepare mailings, research the correct address and regenerate and re-mail the communication
  • Delayed payment of invoices and its impact on cash flow


  • Lost sales because the communication was never received or received too late to act upon.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) impact -damaged customer relationship and reduced goodwill from customers who are irate from not receiving correspondence in a timely manner and/or receiving late fees.

The bottom line: Companies can easily spend $25 or more per piece of returned mail. How can you determine your cost? The USPS Inspector General sited a simple way of determining this. Take the annual value of a customer and divide it by the customer’s expected response rate. For example, if a Customer is worth $600 annually and typically responds at a 10% rate, the cost of the UAA mail piece is $60 – a far cry from the cost to reprint and re-mail the original communication!

Improving Deliverability

One of the most significant factors impacting mail deliverability is address quality. With 18% of the population moving each year and 20% of businesses moving or failing, it is critical to keep addresses up-to-date to keep deliverability high. Address quality software can identify and update your customer file before your mail piece goes out the door

Need a solution to improve your mail deliverability? Click here for data quality options or call us at 303-761-0681

#mail #savemoney