This is Part 1 of a continuing series.

The U.S. presidential election 2000 is not just a strange and surreal experience in the U.S. electoral process ­ it is a warning to a free and democratic society in the information age. As many as three percent of the ballots in the close Florida presidential race were "defective," throwing the country into a near crisis that required resolution by the judicial system.

"Florida's mistake- riddled experience in the 2000 presidential election revealed flaws that for years had been known only by insiders in the voting process."1 The degree of error exposed mandates for true election process reform. True reform is not just substituting new technology for old. Real election reform requires applying information process improvement principles and techniques to the processes and the technology.

Voting processes failed in every state, producing disqualified votes at unacceptable rates. At least five states, including Georgia and Illinois, had higher rates of unmarked, uncounted and disqualified ballots than Florida; and the cities of New York and Chicago had far higher "error" rates, according to a Caltech/MIT study.2 Florida just happened to receive attention because it became the "swing" state upon which the presidential election would be decided because of the closeness of the race.

The Caltech/MIT study determined that 4 to 6 million voters were "disenfranchised" from the presidential election due to "faulty equipment" [sic, should be "Faulty Processes"] (1.5 to 2 million lost votes), registration mix-ups (1.5 to 3 million lost votes) and polling place operation failure (up to 1 million lost votes), plus an unknown number of lost votes due to absentee ballot problems.3 The 4 to 6 million votes lost in the presidential election due to election process failures is the equivalent of throwing out the votes of the entire state of Florida!

The election processes, whether voter registration, voting or recounting, are pure "information production" processes. As such, the analysis of the Florida presidential election and the disqualified votes because of flawed ballot design and other election processes provides an excellent case study in information quality improvement.


Figure 1: Proposed Voter's Bill of Rights

Objectives

The purpose of the article is not to attempt to reopen the election results. The election is over. We have a duly and legally elected President of the United States. The purpose of this article is twofold:

  1. To analyze the data from various analyses of the disqualified votes and other problems of the 2000 presidential election and to describe the information quality principles and process improvements that must be applied to the election processes. These improvements are imperative if we are to guarantee the most sacred right of a democratic society: the right to vote and to have our vote recorded and counted accurately.
  2. To use the election process as a case study on information quality improvements that must be incorporated into all-important processes where the costs of failure are high.

The faulty election processes exposed during the November 7, 2000, presidential election threaten the right of every citizen to be able to vote and to have his/her voting intention recorded and counted accurately. Every American, regardless of political affiliation, should be concerned about the flawed election processes.
Information Quality (IQ) Lesson 1: Deming's first point of quality says, "Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service."4 Management must solve the problems of tomorrow, not just concentrate on solving today's problems with short-term solutions. The obligation to the customer to constantly improve the design of product and service "never ceases."5 For the election processes, this means: The obligation to the voter never ceases.

The election processes, as with any critical processes, must be improved constantly to assure the customers' needs are met. Failed business processes cause dissatisfied customers who take their business elsewhere. When the election processes are faulty, a candidate for whom the majority of voters intended to vote does not get elected, thwarting Abraham Lincoln's vision that we have a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."6

America has various consumer protection rights. Truth-in-lending laws require financial institutions to disclose information about the costs of goods. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the FDA and other consumer protection agencies seek to protect consumers from faulty products that can cause injury or death. Congress is working on a "patients' bill of rights." The increasing lack of customer service in the air travel industry and lack of responsiveness by the airlines are causing many to consider a "passengers' bill of rights." With 4 to 6 million disenfranchised voters who tried to vote, but whose intended votes were rejected in one way or another by faulty election processes and technologies, should there not be a "voters' bill of rights" that guarantees every eligible American citizen the right to vote and to have his/her vote counted accurately?

The voters' bill of rights in Figure 1 states the fundamental rights that I believe the Constitution intends and that voters expect.

The only acceptable quality standard in the voting process is to assure zero defects in order to guarantee that the voting citizen will have his or her vote recorded and counted accurately.

Point 1 of quality requires that America's leaders create constancy of purpose for improvement of the voting process. This does not mean simply substituting one technology for another. Substituting optical technology for punch-card technology would simply exchange a one percent defective vote rate for a 2.9 percent defective vote rate. Optical technology without other quality improvement techniques, such as education and ballot design, would still produce some 60,000 disqualified votes from Florida's six million voters. This would result in the disqualification of more than one million votes out of the more than 105 million votes cast in the 2000 presidential election. This one percent error rate ­ while 4 to 6 times better than the likely actual lost votes ­ is equivalent to throwing out every ballot from the two states of New Hampshire and Montana.

A rejected ballot or an incorrectly recorded vote that does not represent the intention of a voter is a disenfranchisement, regardless of the cause. Can America afford to disenfranchise this many of its voting citizens? The NASA Space Program has a goal of zero defects in its missions to put people in space. Should we not have a goal of zero defects in our election processes to put people in office?

Quality Improvement (QI) Recommendation: Adopt a quality standard of six sigma or zero defects (spoiled and disqualified votes). Philip Crosby correctly states, "There is absolutely no reason for having errors or defects in any product or service."7 Zero defects will not happen all at once. It requires a concerted effort to implement a culture of quality improvement. A twelve-year time frame is an achievable target. Six-sigma quality, the statistical version of zero defects, allows no more than 3.4 errors in one million opportunities for error ­ no more than 340 disqualified votes out of 100 million. Each state and voting jurisdiction should adopt a stretch, but achievable, target such as a 50 percent reduction in disqualified votes in the next election. By halving the number of disqualified votes every two-year election cycle, zero defects (from 5 million disqualified votes in 2000 to approximately 305) would be reached in 2028.

Both public and private sectors must work together to improve the election processes. Voting technology alone is not the solution. Every technology used within a process that has not been error-proofed will produce an inherent degree of errors. Americans have assumed and now expect error-free voting processes that guarantee votes are recorded and counted accurately. This requires designing quality into the process and technology.

IQ Lesson 2: To solve a problem, we must understand not just the precipitating causes but the root causes. Only when we understand the root causes can we make the right process improvements that will error-proof the voting process. Otherwise, we will attack the symptoms and fail to make the optimum solution. Substituting one technology for another only attacks the symptoms.

The High Costs of Process Failure

For 36 days, the world watched the cliffhanger election unfold with chaos and confusion caused by faulty processes and lack of standards. Millions of dollars were spent trying to resolve the dilemma – counting, recounting, attorneys' fees and overtime of courts and other entities. Much of the federal government was put on "hold," unsure of the next directions that would be taken, resulting in lack of productivity. Beyond that, billions of dollars of productivity were lost as people debated and argued the issues at their workplaces.

IQ Lesson 3: Nonquality causes waste, process failure and scrap and rework. Most organizations without a strong information quality management environment waste from 15 percent to more than 20 percent of their operating revenues or budgets in the direct costs of scrap and rework. They incur further opportunity costs in missed revenue and lost revenue by driving customers away with errors in addresses and spelling of names, inaccurate billings, etc.

In election processes, however, the cost of failure (disqualified votes that would have changed the outcome of the election) is change to the course of human history.

The American quality guru W. Edward Deming's 14 Points of Quality apply to all electoral processes.8 While most people know Deming taught quality principles to the Japanese after World War II, few remember he applied his Points of Quality to the 1940 Census, increasing the quality and reducing the costs at the same time.9 His point 5 states, "Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service ... Downstream there will be a continual reduction of waste and continual improvement of quality."10 The goal of process improvement is not just the elimination of the defective products (disqualified or unrecorded votes); the real goal is to eliminate the cost of the consequences.

Don't Fix Blame – Fix the Process

Particularly distressing was the acrimony over who was to "blame" – voters, ballot designers, election officials or the "other" party. Voters faced with poor and misleading ballot designs and inconsistent voting instructions were called "stupid" through no fault of their own. The press perpetuated this blame environment with story headlines such as, "Weakest part of any voting machine: People"11 and "Florida voter errors cost Gore the election."12 The hard feelings remain. "At an acrimonious hearing that showed how bitter the fight remains over the Florida election last fall, two members of the United States Civil Rights Commission strafed each other today and called each other liars."13 At issue was whether or not the higher incident of black voter ballot rejection was due to "voter error" or disenfranchisement.

A subgroup of the House Government Reform Committee conducted a review of approximately 200,000 ballots that went uncounted out of 9 million ballots cast in 40 congressional districts nationwide. One poor, mostly minority district outside Birmingham had the lowest rate of disqualified ballots in all 40 districts studied, contradicting the suggestion that the problem in poor districts is due to illiteracy and voter inexperience. Voters there, using an optical-scan voting system, had a disqualification rate of 0.3 percent – a smaller disqualification rate than any affluent district.14 This compared with an average disqualification rate in districts using optical technology or paper ballots of 1 percent in poor districts and 0.5 percent in affluent districts. This 0.3 percent error rate – three times better than the average in poor districts and nearly twice as good as in affluent districts – is explainable only by error-proofing techniques applied in that district.

IQ Lesson 4: A principle of quality management is that there is no "blame" or "fault finding" when seeking to solve a problem and improve processes. The voters of Florida were not stupid, nor were they "confused." They are good, decent Americans like other voters; they were misled by defectively designed ballots and defective voting processes. Defective products are the results of defective processes – not defective people. Incorrect (wrong selection), unrecorded (undervotes) or disqualified (overvotes) votes are not the result of "confused" or uneducated voters – they are the result of confusingly defined ballots, error-prone technology, lack of training in the voting procedures and lack of feedback as to how votes were recorded. Human error is not a root cause. If human error were the root cause, you would have a consistent percentage of errors across all voting environments.

An environment of non-blame is clear in Deming's point 8, "Drive out fear." If workers, ballot designers or even voters have fear, whether fear of being blamed or because of lack of training or confusing information presentation "directions," they cannot do their best in their work. In the workplace, workers who are afraid will work toward self-preservation rather than toward the goals of the enterprise and for the satisfaction of their customers. Workers who have been punished for making mistakes become reluctant to innovate or try to improve for fear of reprisal.

We must not blame the voters in Florida (or elsewhere) or the ballot designers who have not had training in quality principles or information presentation design. We must analyze the cause of the process failure and improve the processes to eliminate the defects seen last November.

References

1. "America's Election Challenge." USA TODAY 18 June 2001.

2. July 2001 Report of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, Voting – What Is, What Could Be. p. 17.

3. Ibid., p. 9.

4. Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986, p. 24. Deming was the American quality expert who went to Japan in the 1950s and taught his 14 Points of Quality as part of the reconstruction. The Japanese learned and implemented them and transformed the economics of the Industrial Age by significantly reducing the costs of manufacturing scrap and rework. The author has taken Deming's 14 Points and applied them to Information Quality in Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999, pp. 337-399.

5. English, Larry P. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999, p. 340.

6. Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863.

7. Crosby, Philip B. Quality is Free. New York: Penguin Group, 1979, p. 58.

8. Deming, op. cit., pp. 18-96.

9. Walton, Mary. The Deming Management Method. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1986, p. 7.

10. Deming, op. cit., p. 49.

11. Drinkard, Jim and Peter Eisler. "Weakest part of any voting machine: People." USA TODAY 1 March 2001, p. 13A.

12. Cauchon, Dennis and Jim Drinkard. "Florida voter errors cost Gore the election." USA TODAY 11 May 2001, p. 1A.

13. Seelye, Katharine Q. "Senators Hear Bitter Words on Florida Vote." The New York Times. 28 June 2001.

14. Parker, Laura. "Technology can reduce voting flaws, study says," USA TODAY 10 July 2001, p. 9A.

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