Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harmonizing expectations!

It is no secret that election officials and voting system public advocates are not working together. It is vital that growing hostility and distrust be redirected into positive collaboration. The alternative is not pretty.

Key to finding a solution is an understanding of the root cause of the problem. We believe the following to be the root cause.

Problem: Conflicting expectations

On almost every election system topic there is a difference in expectations between election officials and voting system public advocates.

The problem has existed for at least eight years (perhaps forever). It is present before, during and after elections. It exists at the federal, state, county and municipal levels. It is actively interfering with today’s achievement of objectives for high quality and trustworthy elections.

Think about it. When public advocates have a conflict with election officials, it invariably results from a fundamental disagreement over expectations. Public advocates think that officials are supposed to be doing “X” while officials think that they are supposed to be doing “Y”.

Take Colorado’s voting system certification test underway as an illustration. Public advocates’ expectation for what it takes to certify a voting system is not the same as that of officials. Public advocates criticize officials for not doing what advocates believe to be vital requirements of election code and rules. Driven by a different set of priorities, officials treat these criticisms and complaints as irrelevant.

From the perspective of the public advocate, the issues never get resolved. Worse, there is no mutually acceptable process for resolving these differences in expectations. Currently: (a) officials unilaterally dictate unacceptable decisions, or (b) officials simply ignore public advocates.

There is a way to solve the “conflicting expectations” problem. We call it “harmonizing expectations”.

Solution: Harmonizing expectations!

1. Domains of mutually accepted expectations must be identified including:

  • Relationships between players. Who are the actors, what is their role, who decides? Who are the customers and who are the suppliers?
  • Transparency and participation. What is open and what is closed? How to achieve access in a timely manner – without disruption, and before irreversible commitment? How to achieve a dialog between public advocates and officials?
  • Accountability. How to achieve independent oversight? How to achieve independent judgment? Who is responsible for what?
  • Performance priorities. Prioritized list of election system performance expectations, precise definitions, how measured, and acceptable performance range? Consequences?

2. A process for harmonizing expectations must be created and formalized.

  • It must be mutually acceptable to public advocates and officials.
  • It must be subject to independent oversight.
  • It must produce measurable expectations.
  • It must be instituted immediately.

Secretaries of State are required to act within the boundaries of the law. Officials believe that legal restrictions may limit their ability to collaborate. In Colorado, we believe that ways can be found to get the right things done.

  • Step one is for the Secretary of State to acknowledge the problem and the immediate need to harmonize expectations. OpEd?
  • Step two is for the Secretary of State and the Colorado Voter Group to recruit a mutually acceptable volunteer independent moderator(s) who will ensure a fair debate and who will serve as editor of the work products.
  • Step three is for the moderator to oversee negotiation of a process to harmonize expectations.
  • Step four is for the moderator to oversee the development of harmonized expectation agreements.
  • Step five is for the Secretary of State to implement the expectation agreements.

Implementation of these steps will produce a durable improvement in the way that voting system public advocates and election officials work together. It will also provide the basis for increased voter confidence.

No comments: