Based upon feedback on the previous post from someone whose judgment I trust implicitly and whose opinion I value greatly, I want to briefly clarify a point I attempted to make.
There is nothing acceptable or excusable about an election that is mismanaged, rife with errors and which creates doubt about the outcome of the vote. A poorly conducted election in one jurisdiction has immediate short-term and long-term repercussions for other jurisdictions; there is a decrease in confidence by the public, increased scrutiny by the media and legislatures inevitably pass new laws to solve isolated problems of the past. Put more plainly, when errors occur; the public is outraged that their vote may not have been counted, the losers are not convinced they lost, the media has a heyday and political leaders sanctimoniously pontificate and then legislate.
As a result, it is understandable for election officials to conscientiously set a high yet unobtainable standard of perfection and to choose not to see or admit to ever falling short of that standard. The price is too high. Yet the adoption of this seemingly noble and highly responsible standard -perfection- has two paradoxically negative and unanticipated outcomes. First, it reinforces an unreasonable and unattainable expectation, among the public, media and politicians, that an election is only acceptably “good” when conducted without issues or errors. Second, the façade of perfection often adopted by election administrators truncates the feedback loop that is a necessary part of the cycle of learning and improving.
The personal cost of publically acknowledging “learning moments” can be unnecessarily high and painful. The unrecognized organizational cost of ignoring or hiding the “learning moments” is even higher.
Back to the point I want to clarify; errors and mistakes in elections seldom affect the outcomes and should not be considered inherently fatal to acknowledge. The healthy and constructive approach, which I am advocating working toward, is one in which it is safe to acknowledge mistakes and failures for the purpose of learning and improving from them. To do otherwise casts unjustified suspicion on elections and election administrators and inhibits a culture of continuous learning and improvement from which the profession can greatly benefit.
In many ways, this clarifying post is a case study in the learning and improvement cycle I have tried to describe above.