It's not against the law to open your neighbor's mailbox. And, yes, you can peek inside.

Removing items is definitely illegal. Putting stuff inside? That's okay - if you put the required postage on it.

But the rules are up for grabs with digital mailboxes (see "Making the Mailbox a Marketing Mechanism," page 1).

There is no governing body. Commercial organizations are left to slug it out, with the set of services that best fit needs.

Now come Pitney Bowes, which wants to find a future in the post-postage meter world, and Broadridge Financial Solutions, which actually has an opportunity to become the post office, worldwide, for publicly traded companies with shareholders that can reside anywhere on the planet.

Both are honorable companies and have no intrinsic need or desire to stomp on any individual's or group's privacy or commercial interests.

But, it says here, that widespread use of digital mailboxes is something of a Pandora's box when it comes to shareholder voting.

Even anonymized, issuers are going to have an ability to see and affect voting on company issues in a manner not possible before.

In the not-too-distant future, most voting will be conducted electronically. It is easier and simpler for the user; and, more cost-effective for the issuer.

Digital mailboxes will help bring this to be. As noted by Broadridge, the mailbox will not just take in the documents that explain what a vote is about, but put on a calendar for its use the deadline when the person musts actually cast his or her ballot.

In the meantime, such digital mail systems, now under way in more than a score of countries, can and will be used to keep track of responses.

So, let's say Company Z is in a proxy battle. Its slate of candidates faces a real contest for election. So far, Company Z knows, courtesy of the mailbox system, that only 40% of shareholders have cast votes so far.

Some outfit will spring up that can figure out, based on demographics, by zip code, whether that means the existing slate is in trouble. And it'll recommend just which zip codes to focus on in sending out new e-mails to turn the tide.

No individual gets identified. But the peek inside the mailbox could sway the election.

Not going to happen? Don't bet against it.

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