[Images courtesy of Old Time Radio Researchers Group]
The Associated Press recently ran a story that echoes a lot of what I’ve been hearing lately: namely, that messy caucuses in Iowa and Nevada are leading many people to question whether they are the best vehicle for deciding something important like a party’s nomination for President. NPR got in on the act late Tuesday with this story.
As a hardcore election geek with personal and professional interest in successful election administration, I will admit to a small amount of schadenfreude at the struggles that party vote-counters in both states encountered. Elections aren’t like the old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies where one person has ballot boxes, someone else has a polling place and “hey kids, let’s put on a show” … it takes time, money and skill to do elections right, and the problems Iowa and Nevada have encountered suggest that if you want professionally-run elections, you should hire professionals to run them.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though.
If we’ve learned nothing else from recent history, it’s that the appetite for professional election administration isn’t always matched by the kind of budgets to make it happen. South Carolina may have had a smooth state-run primary January 21, but it’s still making up the difference between what their primary cost and what they were paid to run it.
The solution South Carolina ended up with – forcing counties to run an election on their own nickel, hoping to be reimbursed eventually – is likely going to be a non-starter in other places.
In short, parties looking to conduct nomination contests are going to to have to choose between amateurism and professionalism – and everything (especially the price point) both of those words entails.
None of this is to question the dedication and efforts of the amateur vote-counters often pressed into service in places like Iowa and Nevada; but if we are to hold them to a high standard of performance, we should also give them the kind of training, resources and support to make achieving those high standards a realistic goal.
In election administration, like in so many other areas, you get what you pay for … and if you’re not willing to pay the cost, you’re likely not to get what you didn’t pay for.