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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > No Automatic Refunds for Express Mail Users

Washington, DC — I had occasion recently to cast an absentee-ballot. The town, where my vote had to he sent, left very little time for obtaining the application, returning the form, receiving the ballot and sending it back by the late Saturday election day deadline.

Express mail service was in order. Which one to choose? Federal Express promises to get your mailing by 10:30 am the next morning for $11.00 if you take it to their drop location. UPS promises delivery by noon the next day for $8.50 if you take it to them. The good old Post Office assures that their Express Mail will arrive no later than 3 p.m. the next afternoon.

I want to support our Post Office, now called the U.S. Postal Service. It has bound our nation together for over 200 years, providing universal service to city dweller or remote rural resident alike for the same first class stamp price. Its many Post Offices provide basing points for-government information notices and could expand these useful contacts between the people and their governmental servants.

The Postal Service does not discriminate between the lucrative customers and the millions of Americans who just want the mail delivered on time and in good shape. However the reorganization of the old Post Office Department into its present corporate format, delivery has been cut back in a variety of ways. For example, weekend service is reduced, new housing does riot get home delivery — the post boxes are in clusters on the street. Postal pickup boxes on the streets have declined in number. Arid the first class postage stamp has gone from 6 cents to 25 cents in eighteen years — quite a bit higher than inflation.

Some right wing ideologues within the Reagan Administration are calling for the breakup of the Postal Service. Privatize it, revoke its letter mail monopoly and let it swim or sink, they say, but allow its competitors to cream off the most profitable business. Fortunately, their demands will be ignored by Congress.

I believe in the historical mission and public: obligations of the Postal Service. So I went with its Express Mail over its competitors. application, dutifully filled out as soon as I received it, went up on a Wednesday to Connecticut along that speed-assured track. It got there around mid-day.

A friend mailed the ballot back to me on Thursday, Express Mail, and it arrived late — at 4:16 p.m. on Friday. Before 5 p.m. at a local post office branch in Washington., DC, I Mailed the completed ballot back to the Town Hall with the official address taped onto the large regular Express Mail envelope.

Town Hall officials went to the Post Office several times on Saturday, I was told, and their last pickup was at 4:30 p.m. My Express Mail absentee ballot arrived at the Town Hall Monday morning, two days later than promised. My vote therefore did not count.

Two out of three Express Mails that week arrived late. For $8.75 per mailing, that is not service that induces pride. I’ve applied for a refund. I learned a few things. First, most people who use Express Mail that arrives late do riot apply for a refund. The Postal Service kept over 100 million that way in 1987. Unless the receiver informs the sender of a late Express Mail, the only recourse the sender has is to buy in advance a return receipt service for 90 cents.

Why doesn’t the Postal Service automatically refund the money, since they knew precisely every time their Express Mail defaults on its written guarantee and arrives late? Good question, says the brand new Postmaster General, Anthony Frank said he’ll look into this matter. About three years ago, the Postal Service’s general counsel rejected my urgings for automatic refund.

Indeed refunding would be food marketing. For neither Federal Express nor UPS, nor DHL, nor Purolater have an automatic refund policy for their express service. More importantly, it would be a policy of honesty.

I’ll get my refunds, but only after more than many minutes and telephone calls of effort. But I lost my opportunity to have my vote counted.

Out of this experience, I am determined to reverse the Postal Service’s policy of no automatic: refunds and, in so doing, all the other competitors will have to change too. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be refunded every year to consumers who didn’t get what they paid for nor what they believed in, after seeing the television ads.

For those who doubt the success of my pledge, stay tuned. For those who want to join a nationwide Residential Postal Action group composed of residential users of the Mai l who want to advance the U.S. Postal Service’s mission and make it more efficient and reliable, send a letter to Harry Lewis, RPA, P.O. Box 19367 Washington, DC 20036.