Every research project brings its share of problems and pressures. There are time and budget constraints to work around, security concerns to consider, egos to massage. But what if you had conservative groups, politicians, hordes of scoop-hungry reporters and 50 million Elvis fans watching your every move?

Those were some of the obstacles faced by Jim Timony earlier this year. Timony is a senior account executive with Bruskin/Goldring Research, the Edison, New Jersey-based firm that won the honor of designing and tabulating the ballots used to choose the U.S. Postal Service's much talked-about Elvis stamp. "Although it was fun, we took it deadly serious," Timony says.

With two potential designs to choose from the Postal Service - in a rare fit of marketing genius - decided to let the public choose between the young, svelte Elvis and the older, jumpsuited King. It was an election that drew worldwide attention and probably more passionate voters than November's presidential election.

Lightning rod

Earlier this year, as the man responsible for supervising the balloting, Timony quickly became a lightning rod for attention - and reporters' phone calls. "This was big scoop material. Who ever found out which stamp was going to win would sell a lot of newspapers, so I had reporters calling me all the time," Timony says.

"When it started I thought, well, this is going to be fun. I didn't know how big it was going to get until one night when I was having dinner and I was watching the network news and all of a sudden Peter Jennings holds up the two stamps and starts talking about the Elvis poll. And I said holy cow, this is big news."

During the voting, which lasted from April 6 to Midnight on April 24, voters picked up ballots at post offices and mailed them to an address in Memphis (site of Elvis' home, Graceland). Not only did entries flood in from every state in the U.S., over 2000 votes arrived from Elvis fans around the world.

While over ten million ballots were printed, 1.2 million were returned. (Most were probably kept as collector's items, Timony says.) Still, who wouldn't be happy with a 10% return rate? I guess it takes Elvis to earn numbers like that for a survey.

Password wasn't "Elvis"

From Memphis the ballots were shipped via truck to a secret site near Bruskin/Goldring headquarters. The tabulating process was cloaked in extreme secrecy. Only Timony and then-Postmaster General Anthony Frank knew what the totals were. "I got totals daily in terms of what was entered. I didn't throw anything away. I didn't want the garbage man to find out!"

All of the computers used in the tabulating had passwords (no, Timony says, the password wasn't "Elvis") and the workers entering the ballots weren't allowed to keep a running tab. Nor were they allowed to talk to reporters. "We had a bunch of people working on it but nobody knew how many were entered or what the totals were. Even if Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes showed up, they weren't allowed to talk."

As the world now knows, the young Elvis won in a landslide. The final numbers were: young Elvis - 851,200; older Elvis - 277,723. ("I would have had to kill you if I had told you this back in April," Timony jokes.)

Included with some of the ballots were letters both for and against the Elvis stamp and a variety of Elvis lore and tributes, including a photo of a mutt named Hound Dog. "We got long letters, some said how wonderful Elvis was, others said that they shouldn 't be doing this, and others were so happy that he was going to be honored this way."

Controversial figure

Much of the flak over the stamp centered around the correctness of devoting a stamp to a controversial figure like Elvis, a man who descended into drug abuse near the end of his life. ("What are we saying to our young people? We're trying to teach them to say no to drugs, then look who we're lionizing on a stamp," Rep. Marge Roukema, R-New Jersey, told the New York Times.)

"There were a lot of political people making a big stink about Elvis Presley being on a stamp. I actually had people ask me if I felt guilty about doing this because Elvis died of a drug overdose. But the answer to that is no," Timony says, pointing out that several stamps have already been issued featuring figures who led controversial lives.

15 minutes of fame

In May, Timony had the honor of presenting Priscilla Presley with the envelope containing the winning choice in a ceremony at Graceland. As part of the process, Timony toured Graceland and met Priscilla ("A very nice lady," he says). "When we went live that morning at 6:28 a.m. every national morning show was there. I walked up on stage as they said 'And now Jim Timony from Bruskin/Goldring Research in Edison, New Jersey will present the final ballot.' As Andy Warhol would say, I guess that's my 15 minutes of fame."

The stamp will be officially introduced on January 8 (what would have been Elvis' 58th birthday) in a ceremony at a post office near Graceland. The Postal Service expects to make a profit of $20 million on sales to stamp collectors and fans of the King, because for every Elvis stamp that goes unused, another 29 cents goes into Postal Service coffers. Gee, maybe they'll pass the savings on to us in the form of lower postage rates...Yeah, and maybe one day Elvis will stage the ultimate comeback tour.