Express Mail takes a detour

December 03, 1990|By Ralph Nader

THIS IS an open letter to Postmaster General Anthony Frank:

Dear Mr. Frank:

Soon after you took office, you indicated that the post offices around the country could be used to increase voter registration. Although you have not persisted with this sensible suggestion, which remains an idea, you do need to focus on the ability of your Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots on time.

Two years ago I sent by Express Mail an absentee ballot for alocal referendum in my home town in Connecticut which is a short distance from Hartford. The Postal Service guarantees next day arrival. In fact, it arrived the day after election day. I filed for a refund.

Earlier this month, I returned from a trip out of Washington to an absentee ballot for the Nov. 6 elections in Connecticut. I filled out the ballot Nov. 5, and it was taken to a post office at noon. Both your guarantee and the clerk marked that the letter would get to the town clerk in Connecticut the next day by 3 p.m. at the latest. The town clerk's last visit to the Post Office was 6:30 p.m. and still the ballot had not arrived, much less been delivered. Instead, the ballot arrived the following day, thereby nullifying my vote.

I take this negation of your Express Mail advertising assurances seriously, not only because you took away my vote, but because you do not deliver millions of Express Mail envelopes on time each year. Over two years ago, your own consumer adviser said that the sum total of yearly refunds for late delivery of Express Mail which patrons could have requested but did not, "was over $100 million." Without counting those patrons who went through the arduous process of filling out a refund form after being notified by their addressee that their Express Mail did not arrive on time, well over 11 million Express Mails annually are delivered late. Moreover, for such a sad performance, no one in a position of responsibility in the Postal Service has been held accountable. At least no one has heard of anyone in management being demoted, reprimanded or discharged. You know that Express Mail has considerably less than 20 percent of the overnight delivery mail business.

One would think that Postal Management would send out a special alert to deliver Express Mail envelopes with maximum diligence around election time, given the growing number of absentee voters. The Post Office gets more business then because of the elections.

Just as a former postmaster general once admitted that he would use UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service to send a package if he were in a business, perhaps you would advise me to use Federal Express. Maybe I should have dropped my long-held support and hope for a resurgent Postal Service. However, the general inadequacy of the Express Mail service warrants more than a refund on request, to wit:

The Postal Service, unlike Federal Express, does not make trace its non-on-time delivery to see what happened so that corrective action could be taken. You should institute a follow-up process to achieve this objective, so that your subordinates can say something other than "we don't know what happened and will never know."

Second, I request that you reconsider your refusal to institute an automatic refund system. There is a record of the time of delivery for every Express Mail which can be tapped by the Post Office for an automatic refund. The Post Office has a duty not to reap a huge windfall for failure to deliver on time.

An automatic refund policy would not only be a good marketing tool but would also serve as a constant deterrent to late delivery.

Finally I would like to receive a letter of apology from you. My vote would not have made the difference in any of the campaigns, as it turned out, but it is a precious right which deserves to have the Postal Service live up to its guarantees. There is no postal policy requiring writing letters of apology, so why not start the voluntary precedent at least? Since the Postal Service is immune from suit, you cannot use the oft-repeated excuse that an apology would suggest liability.

Awaiting your response,

Ralph Nader

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