Guest Post by James Kline (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
On September 15, 2021, ASQ announced the formation of the Center for Electoral Quality and Integrity. This announcement caused a conflicted reaction. On the one hand I liked that the Government Division, which was pushing this action, was showing some level of activity, after almost none for several years. One the other hand, I just laughed at the idea that ASQ and Government Division was going to, or even be capable of, having an impact on electoral quality or integrity. This is not a case of believing the objective is bad.
It is a case of realizing that this is not the 1990s when quality was a key priority of governments around the world. And that ASQ does not have the same level of influence it had, when in the 1990s it was instrumental in getting Education added to the Baldrige Award.
This piece discusses the white paper on Electoral Quality and Integrity which the Center seeks to implement. It also discusses the forces likely to prevent ASQ from being successful.
ASQ White Paper Electoral Quality and Integrity
In April 2021 ASQ published a white paper entitled “Advancing a Quality Management System for US Elections”. The introduction states: “The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is a professional and educational nonprofit organization which empowers individuals and communities of the world to achieve excellence through quality. … The precarious condition of U.S. elections illustrates the lack of, and need for, excellence in the U.S. electoral system.” (1)
ASQ advocates electoral system managers adopt ISO/TS 54001:2019. ISO/TS 54001:2019 provides a comprehensive framework for the design and implementation of a quality management system. “There is an urgent need to address the shortcomings and risks that currently afflict U.S. electoral processes. Quality management provides an effective and proven solution.” (2)
The election structure ASQ presents in its white paper lists eight steps. These steps are associated with seven activities. The steps and activities are listed below.
- Voter Registration – Leadership
- Registration of Political Organizations and Candidates -Engagement of People
- Electoral Logistics – Process Approach
- Vote Counting – Improvement
- Vote Counting and Declaration of Results – Evidence Based Decision Making
- Electoral Education – Evidence Based Decision Making
- Oversite of Campaign Financing – Relationship Management
- Resolution of Electoral Disputes – Customer Focus
The eight election steps are a reasonable facsimile of most election steps worldwide. Thus, my concerns are not with the steps or the idea that the electoral process needs improvement. My concern is fundamentally ASQ’s hubris and seeming naivety.
ASQ is not the influential organization it was in the 1990’s. Its membership is far less than that in the 1990’s. Nor is there a national quality wave. Quality is not job one in many companies or governments. In addition, ASQ’s membership is split. Some members, me included, believe that corporate is taking the society in the wrong direction. The split dissipates the willingness of members to support corporate activities. As a result, there is an appearance that ASQ is flailing around in an attempt for relevance. For instance, corporate claimed ASQ was instrumental in facilitating Operation Warp Speed, the development of COVID vaccines. ASQ played no meaningful role in the vaccine development. The creation of the Center for Electoral Quality and Integrity seems in the same vein, hubris, and an attempt for relevance.
This seeming flailing and the hubris is problematic because it squanders resources, both financial and human on a project which in terms of success is unlikely. It is naïve to believe otherwise.
In two professional positions I was involved with election law. At the City of Corvallis Oregon, I was the contact person for the citizen group supporting the city’s budget levy. At the Oregon Department of Revenue, I was involved with local budget law. That included ensuring that local governments complied with election law. Privately, I was twice a member of a citizen group which opposed a state sales tax. The second time I was the Vice President of the group.
The point is not to make myself out as an election expert, but to emphasize that there are several levels and actors involved in the election process. In fact, to be relatively aware of all aspects of election law, one must work for the County Elections Department, the Secretary of State’s Office, or be an attorney who specializes in election law. It is doubtful that many members of the ASQ Government Division have such experience or exposure.
Further, since the state legislatures make the election laws, there are variations between states. Thus, it is doubtful many members of the Government Division understand the nuances of election law across the country. These nuances will hinder any effort for a uniform implementation of ISO/TS 54001:2019.
A complicating factor is communications. Few state legislators know what ISO/TS 54001:2019 is. Similarly, it is doubtful that many of the Government Division members or even ASQ private sector members have had significant interaction with state legislators. If one does not know the language, interest and needs of the individuals one is trying to influence, success in not likely.
Moreover, the interest and needs issue demonstrate the naivety. Politicians, administrators, and organizations have interests and needs which are not associated with the implementation of ISO/TA 5400:2019. My experience in the City of Corvallis is a good example. There were three primary organization putting forth annual budget levies. These were the Corvallis School District, the City of Corvallis, and Benton County. Benton County, because it always had the smallest levy wanted to piggyback on the ballot with either the city or the school district. The city did not particularly care who else was on the ballot. However, the school district wanted to be on the ballot by itself. Further, it sought out dates, at the time there were multiple dates jurisdictions could place levies on, where those most likely to favor passage of their levy would be voting and those unlikely to support the level were away on vacation. School district administrators and board members felt it was in the organization’s interest to have their levy stand alone and selected election dates which favored success.
What the school district did was not illegal. In addition, it was occurring at the local government level, where the stakes were relatively low. If one is running for the state legislature or a statewide or national office, or has a statewide ballot measure, the stakes are higher. Fraud and corruption can enter the picture. It is said that in his first run for U.S. Senate in Texas, Lyndon Johnson won because he was so popular that the dead came back to vote for him. The recent Maricopa County Arizona forensic audit found that not only did dead people vote, but the number of ballots received versus envelopes did not match. Whether fraud or criminal activity occurred has yet to be determined. The point is that as one moves up the government levels in the election process the number of interest groups and stakes increase. Those who are in power try to ensure that the laws, and associated regulations, favor them. They, after all, want to stay in power. Implementing ISO/TA 5400:2019 is not a consideration.
The ASQ’s Government Division is promoting the adoption of ISO/TA 5400:2019 as a way of improving election quality and integrity. To this end ASQ formed the Center for Electoral Quality and Integrity. This seems more an act of hubris and naivety. It is hubris because it implies that ASQ has the clout to facilitate the adoption of ISO/TA 54000:2019. This is not the 1990’s. Its membership has steadily decreased over the years. Further, the membership is divided on the direction of the society. It is naïve because state legislators, who make the election rules, could care less about ISO/TA 54000:2019.
- ASQ, 2021, “Advancing a Quality Management System for US Elections”, April, https://asq/prg/quality-resources/articles/advancing-a-quality-management-system-for-US-elections?id+950a0f5fb411b13763bae264e40c, page 1.
- Ibid page 7.
James J. Kline is a Senior Member of ASQ, a Six Sigma Green Belt, a Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence, and a Certified Enterprise Risk Manager. He has work for federal, state, and local government. He has over ten year’s supervisory and managerial experience in both the public and private sector. He has consulted on economic, quality and workforce development issues for state and local governments. He has authored numerous articles on quality and risk management. His book “Enterprise Risk Management in Government: Implementing ISO 31000:2018” is available on Amazon. He is the principle of JK Consulting. He can be contacted on LinkedIn. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.