Konopasek’s New ElectionGuru Asks: What’s a “Good” Election?

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[Image courtesy of utahpolicy]

Former election official and current Utah doctoral candidate Scott Konopasek recently launched a new blog entitled, and focused on, Election Administration Theories and Praxis. Fortunately, we don’t have to use (or shorten) that title because he helpfully gave the blog a URL that includes ElectionGuru so it shall henceforth be known here as just that.

After his introductory post, Scott dives into a question that’s very timely in the current environment: what’s a “good” election? The answer, he says, depends on who you ask:

Everyone wants a “good” election but what does that really mean? The notion of a “good” election is discussed by administrators, media, candidates, pundits and scholars as if everyone knows what a “good” election looks like. That is far from the case as each evaluates the “goodness” of an election by different criteria and standards.

To candidates and parties, any election that results in their victory is a good election. To the losers, the election was, by definition, NOT a “good” election. To administrators, a “good” election is one in which there are no close races and in which no embarrassing information is publicly disclosed. To county legislative bodies, a “good” election is a cheap election (and one in which they and their friends win- of course.) To the media and pundits there is probably no such thing as a “good” election for if there were, it could put them out of business. Scholars believe that there should be “good” elections and the key is to collect data to prove (or disprove) the “goodness” of an election.

The challenge, of course, is that with no consensus on a “good” election, there is little guidance for policymakers and practitioners alike on how to make elections “better”. As Scott notes, some jurisdictions have arrived at their own localized notions of good and better, but those concepts haven’t propagated outwards to the field at large:

The absence of a common definition inhibits our ability to establish any meaningful criteria or standards for evaluating how well managed any given election might be. How can we develop performance metrics, evaluate elections or offer advice for improving performance if we don’t have a clear picture of what an ideal election looks like?

Quite simply, it is difficult to imagine any effort to improve election administration that doesn’t involve some kind of ideal, fuzzy or otherwise, against which to measure progress (or the lack thereof). As Scott observes,

[T]his absence of a commonly accepted definition of a “good” election makes it difficult, if not impossible, to effectively manage, improve and reform the administration of elections- kind of like embarking on a road trip without a specific destination in mind. [emphasis added]

Konopasek has promised to wrestle with this question in future posts – I look forward to that and will definitely be adding ElectionGuru to my daily election geek blog roll.

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