Then Frog and Toad went out to the front porch to wait for the mail.
They sat there feeling happy together.
from “The Letter” in Frog and Toad are Friends
written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel
Harper & Row, 1970
scroll to 13:28
My dad was a philatelist, a stamp collector, and a serious one at that.
Back in the day when we sent a letter to someone, after we licked the envelope to seal it, we licked the back of a stamp to activate the adhesive, then stuck it onto the envelope.
When we got mail with stamps on it, my dad clipped the stamp off the envelope and set it aside. When he had enough, maybe a dozen or two, he’d set up a bowl of warm water and carefully put the stamps in to soak off the glue. They’d stay there for a while, over night sometimes, then he’d gently take them out with a pair of tweezers, being ever mindful of the delicate perforations around the edges, and lay each stamp backside up on old newspapers to dry. Another layer of newspapers and a heavy book sat on them to keep them flat. When the stamps were dry and flat, he’d sort them into tiny glassine envelopes, made from translucent paper. They came in several small sizes. When he was ready, he’d use his tweezers to carefully pull the stamp he wanted from the the tiny envelope and attach it to an album page with special paper hinges.
He traded with his friends to collect stamps from the world over, then showed us all the countries on a world map.
Since the Post Office has been in the news lately, I thought I delve into its history a little and try to understand where the current financial controversy stands and whether the mail is safe.
The Post Office is an old institution. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress. The first postage stamps were issued in 1847. To streamline sorting, ZIP Codes were established in 1963. In 1992, we stopped licking. Self-adhesive stamps became available nationwide.
On July 1, 1863, it cost 3 cents to mail a letter. The cost increased a few cents every few years until now, 157 years later, it costs 55 cents to stay in touch. I admit, I call more than I write. What can be better than a FaceTime call with my kids and grandkids? But who doesn't like to get a letter, a real one, delivered right to your house?
Until recently, the Post Office had very little competition. Now, you can use United Parcel Service (UPS) or Federal Express (FedEx) to mail packages and envelopes. Neither is affiliated with the United States Postal Service (USPS), a government agency under authorization of the Congress of the United States.
More and more people are getting their news online through a reputable outlet or not. Magazines and journals have gone online to save the cost of postage. Catalogs are also online, for the same reason.
The USPS is different from other government entities. The USPS is expected to pay its own way. Its mandate does not require solvency, though, and costs of doing business are far outpacing the 55-cent cost of a first class stamp. The necessity of staying competitive in the package delivery arena is also hard on the bottom line.
Less mail means less money. In 2006, the post office handled 213 billion pieces of mail. A decade later only 149 billion pieces were mailed. In 2017, 28 percent of revenue came from packages. And online retailers are moving toward carrying and delivering packages themselves or using new companies like Uber or drones and delivery robots. Or something that hasn’t been thought of yet.
According to the 2017 USPS annual report, postal workers used 230,000 trucks and other vehicles to deliver mail to 157 million addresses and post office boxes in the United States, including Puerto Rico, the American Virgin Islands, and the other territories and possessions.
Five hundred thousand employees deliver the mail and manage 35,000 post offices and contractor-run retail shops, each with its own overhead.
We all receive mail six days a week, 52 weeks a year (with a few days off for holidays).
So what about mail-in voting? It is a good idea that needs a good plan.
We need to trust our letter carriers, the post office workers, and the Postmaster General to assure that those wishing to vote by mail can do so easily, safely, and securely. In every precinct of every state.
We do. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, the USPS is the most liked government agency with a 91% approval rating.
Let’s look at the Primary election in Wisconsin last April. The state was unprepared to deliver and receive over 1,000,000 ballots. People filled them in wrong, they forgot to sign. They mailed them back late. Wisconsin did not have the experience to deal with huge volumes of mailed-in ballots. The local authorities didn’t have the infrastructure in place to handle it. And the citizens did not have clear instructions.
That can happen on a national scale if we are not prepared.
Mail fraud is rare. Ballot tampering is rare. Voter fraud is rare.
The government of the United States needs to help the states and precincts develop and prepare the structure needed to insure that every single citizen is able to vote. States need to guide their citizens in the correct way to complete the ballot and emphasize the necessity of sending it back in time.
It is our right to vote. It is our obligation.
Our very democracy depends on it.
--stay curious! (and surprise someone with a letter)