Assuring Elections Quality – A White Paper

By Thomas Pyzdek and Joseph A. DeFeo

The views expressed in this White Paper are solely those of the authors.

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Introduction

The United States presidential elections in 2000 and 2020 were disputed and created a lack of confidence in the election results by a large number of citizens, both Democrat (2000) and Republican (2020). They believe that the elections were “stolen”. This distrust caused delays in certifying the results of both elections. In 2020 it led to mobs of people violently storming the capitol building, tragically resulting in deaths and arrests. Washington D.C. literally militarized in preparation for the inauguration, as did many cities around the country. The authors of this White Paper believe that these events demonstrate a need for additional election process safeguards and to deal with the following:

  • Public distrust in the honesty and integrity of American elections is at an all-time high.
  • The distrust extends to all aspects of election systems: election workers, political parties, news media, and suppliers of election supplies and equipment are all suspect.
  • It is time for a private, non-political organization with an impeccable reputation, such as the American Society for Quality to step in with a solution for restoring public trust of election processes.
  • elections. It is being used by over 1 million organizations to assure customers, suppliers, and regulators. The quality management system can be trusted to deliver quality products and services.

As two lifelong quality management practitioners, we began discussing the USA 2020 election and we concluded that the USA needs a new standard for election processes. We are not referring to the candidate selection process but to the processes by which jurisdictions (e.g., states, counties, towns) vote. Our discussion centered around assuring the quality management of voting processes from end-to-end. We wondered, could this be done better? Made more reliable? And result in more people accepting the reliability and accuracy of the outcome? Our discussion has led to this paper. The USA needs more reliable election processes. They could become more reliable if each election jurisdiction in the USA adopts a new set of quality standards which are objective and auditable by an independent authority. The standards and independent authority already exist, as we will describe in this paper.

Historical Background

Historically, with rare exceptions, people have not had the option of choosing their own leaders. Kings, emperors, lesser royalty as well as various dictators, warlords and thugs have ruled unwilling subjects who had no say in the matter. This situation is still common in the world today. Early democracies were often brutal. Letting “the people” lead themselves resulted in “the tyranny of the majority” and ultimately failed to last. Case in point: Greek philosopher Socrates, whose fellow citizens chose by popular vote to have him commit suicide by drinking the poison hemlock[1]. However, in 1789 the new nation of America adopted a constitution based on the principle that all persons had certain individual “inalienable rights” that placed limits on collective power, including the power of majorities to impose their will on minorities. This constitution recognized the right of people to choose their own leaders based on a voting right possessed by a certain class of White men. Since then, the franchise has been extended to other groups, Black men[2], women[3] and persons aged 18-20[4]. In the 21st century the democratic republic form of government is widespread and the right of people to choose their leaders by voting is commonly, though still not universally, acknowledged.

We expanded our discussion by reaching out to several prominent members of The American Society for Quality “ASQ” who were also alarmed by these events and concerned for the future of American democracy. Jointly this group has announced their intent to develop and promote a standard that can be used by political jurisdictions in the USA to assure the quality of their election processes. The aim of the project is to:

  1. Provide guidance to USA election jurisdictions for the establishment and maintenance of effective quality management systems for elections.
  2. Facilitate education around management system standards such as ISO/TS 54001:2019, a QMS for elections based on ISO 9001 and currently in use by several nations outside of the USA.
  3. Enhance awareness of the existence of a QMS for elections among members of the public and election administrators.
  4. Encourage adoption of a QMS for elections throughout the USA.
  5. Identify QMS for elections resource needs and auditor certification requirements.

Quality Assurance

One approach was to look at it from a quality assurance, “QA” perspective. QA, pioneered by quality guru Joseph M. Juran during and after World War II, includes developing quality standards for quality management systems (“QMS”). The standards are used by trained and accredited auditors to evaluate supplier organizations’ QMS. Auditors, or teams of auditors, review organizations’ QMS documentation and highlight their findings in reports to organizations. Repeated cycles of QMS documentation revisions and subsequent QMS documentation audits occur until the audit team believes the QMS documentation meets a threshold level of compliance with the standard. At that point, in-person audits are scheduled and conducted at one or more supplier organization locations to confirm that the written documentation is consistently followed in practice. The cycles of audit/report/correct/repeat visit continue until the auditing organization concludes that actual compliance with the standard meets or exceeds their threshold, at which time certification of the organization’s compliance with the standard is issued.

Standards documents describe practices based on known scientific, technical and management principles and ISO[5] has developed over 23,603 International Standards covering a wide range of subjects. One such standard is ISO 9000 which is based on quality management principles including the process approach and continual improvement. All standards within the ISO 9000 family refer to quality management. ISO 9001 is one of the most well-known standards in the ISO 9000 family, defining criteria for general QMS. There are over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001.

As of January 2021, over 1 million organizations worldwide were ISO 9001 certified. ISO 9001 is by far the most used ISO standard.

Organizations who want to be certified to ISO 9001 can apply and submit to an audit process as described above. Once the accredited auditing organization concludes that the organization has passed the audit, they are issued a certificate of compliance. The organization can then state, e.g., “ACME Corp. is ISO 9001 certified” to announce to customers that ACME Corp. has a QMS that conforms to the practices defined in the standard ISO 9001.

Key Findings

The authors believe the following positions will greatly increase the integrity of U.S. elections and restore the trust the American people have in their election system.

ASQ is uniquely positioned to assure the quality of election processes

Election quality is too important to be left entirely to politicians or political entities. Political entities, such parties, elections department employees, politicians, et cetera are perceived, rightly or wrongly, by a large part of the electorate to have an inherent bias. Simply stated, these citizens believe that trusting political entities to safeguard the election process is akin to having the fox guard the hen house.

The American Society for Quality (“ASQ”)[6] was founded in 1946 by professionals with a common interest in one thing: quality. ASQ is uniquely positioned to address the perception of political bias in elections. Thousands of ASQ members around the world work to assure the quality of their employers’ and clients’ products, services, processes, and products. ASQ even has a division devoted to government, with a focus on the quality of government services. The quality of election processes is a logical part of ASQ’s mission. Crucially, ASQ is apolitical.

An accepted quality standard for elections already exists

The current QMS for elections is ISO/TS 54001:2019, the ISO technical specification that was formally approved by 42 of 71 member countries of ISO following a two-year vetting process.[7] ISO/TS 54001:2019 is an international management system standard for election processes that was promoted and developed by the Organization of American States “OAS” in conjunction with a group of electoral experts. Based on ISO 9001, the standard provides a comprehensive guide for the design and implementation of quality management systems by election authorities, providing objective criteria for the evaluation of election processes. Election jurisdictions on a global level have gained certification of conformance with the standard. Figure 1 shows the election system processes covered by ISO/TS 54001:2019. As of January 2021 six entities have been issued certificates to ISO/TS 54001:2019 and 2 more are in process.

Figure 1-Scope of ISO/TS 54001

ASQ should perform the functions of IEAB in the United States

The International Electoral Accreditation Body “IEAB” works to promote transparency and quality in elections by supporting the certification of election management bodies against international electoral standards such as ISO/TS 54001:2019. IEAB accredits certification houses in electoral matters, trains and authorizes auditors in electoral standards and maintains a standardized assessment process for electoral-body certifications.

In the United States the federal government as well as state and local jurisdictions have laws governing elections. Applying ISO/TS 54001:2019 in election jurisdictions in the United States must be undertaken by a non-political American organization if it is to be accepted by American citizens and politicians. ASQ has the reputation needed to be that organization.

Key Takeaways

  • Public distrust in the honesty and integrity of American elections is at an all-time high.
  • The distrust extends to all aspects of election systems: election workers, political parties, news media, and suppliers of election supplies and equipment are all suspect.
  • It is time for a private, non-political organization with an impeccable reputation, such as ASQ, to step in with a solution for restoring public trust of election processes.
  • We believe that adoption of a QMS for elections, such as an American version of ISO/TS 54001:2019, should be adopted by election jurisdictions throughout the USA.
  • A quality-based model is being used by over 1 million organizations to assure customers, suppliers, and regulators that they have a quality management system that can be trusted to deliver quality products and services. The same approach can be adapted for elections.

Conclusion

Throughout history doubts about elections are a key reason that democracies fail. There have been doubts about election results in previous American elections, but the 2020 election set a new high watermark for citizen skepticism. The result was a breakdown in civil order. To preserve American democracy it’s time to create and adopt a new approach to assuring election integrity. An approach that adds a method for certifying election processes by an organization outside of the political arena with the knowledge, skills, abilities and reputation for assuring systems quality. We conclude that adopting an American version of ISO/TS 54001:2019 should be explored by ASQ.

Appendix: A Brief history of disputed American elections

  • 1800. the House of Representatives had to decide who the vice president would be after Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied at 73 electoral ballots each. At that time, Electoral College delegates voted for two candidates: the top finisher became president, and the runner-up became vice president.
  • 1824, the House again had to determine official results, but this time for a presidential election. While Andrew Jackson won more electoral votes, he didn’t receive a majority, which prompted Congress to choose between him and John Quincy Adams.
  • 1876. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes had lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden. But three states had disputed results, which caused the two parties to make a deal: Democrats gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for Republicans removing all federal troops from the South, ending the Reconstruction era.
  • 1960. Extremely close contest between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Republican officials cried foul and stated that voting machines were rigged, but Nixon never contested the results.
  • 2000. The Supreme Court stepped in to help decide the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The contest came down to an Electoral College battle in Florida. Florida officials were in the process of recounting ballots when the Court effectively awarded Florida’s 25 electoral votes to Bush.
  • 2020. Contest between incumbent president Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden. Trump asserted that the election was stolen but could not prove the claim despite 86 lawsuits in several states with all but one minor case (which was later overturned) being withdrawn or dismissed by various courts. The election results in each state and the District of Columbia were certified by December 9. The presidential electors formally cast their votes for president and vice president on December 14, and their votes were officially counted by Congress on January 6–7, 2021, before and after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. Many Trump supporters refused to believe that the election results were valid.

Footnotes

[1] They also voted death for Aristotle, but the father of logic fled declaring “One Socrates is enough.”

[2] 15th amendment, 1870.

[3] 19th amendment, 1920.

[4] 26th amendment, 1971.

[5] ISO, the International Organization for Standardization develops and publishes International Standards.

[6] ASQ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

[7] https://www.oas.org/ext/en/democracy/ieab/Resources/About-ISO-TS-54001

Comments

  • Paul W. Gladieux March 29, 2021 at 9:02 am Reply

    Tom, Your article is truly a timely work of fact and one that every American should read and embrace. On behalf of everyone at GQM Advisors, thank you.

    • Thomas Pyzdek March 29, 2021 at 11:41 am Reply

      Thanks so much Paul. Your comment is greatly appreciated. Please distribute, retweet, etc.to as many people as you can!

  • Mark Harris March 31, 2021 at 6:35 am Reply

    This effort should catalyze each state in providing a closed loop certification of voting methodology and supporting data to erase any doubt of election process control.

  • Tom Taormina March 31, 2021 at 10:32 am Reply

    Tom;
    Your thesis is admirable and on point. The problem is that there are mostly self-serving politicians in DC and very few strategic thinkers who have the best interest of their constituents in mind, In 2020, several states chose to ignore the Constitution and arbitrarily change the intent of the founding fathers in the conduct of presidential elections.

    You and I have decades of experience attempting to convince CEO’s of the process model and a structured QMS is in their best interest for overall success.. I expect that pitching this model to politicians would threaten their need for power and control..

    Since COVID, ASQ has had their hands full attempting to maintain the relevance of quality professionals, I fear that attempting to change paradigms in the political arena will not be welcome.

    • Thomas Pyzdek March 31, 2021 at 12:00 pm Reply

      I completely agree with everything you say, Tom. Still, I love my country and must try to do what I can to save it. This is how I chose to do it. I may be tilting at windmills, but there you are. Wish me luck!

  • Stephen Czupryna April 7, 2021 at 11:45 am Reply

    It’s refreshing to see Tom’s calm, methodical proposal to address the (horrifying) systemic breakdown of our beloved election process. I agree, ASQ is well-placed to lead the way back to the clarity, transparency and fairness needed to make our elections fair for everyone.

    With that in mind, I’ll be on the lookout for opportunity to volunteer locally as an election observer, perhaps as a certified auditor or heck, I’ll even make coffee and sweep the floors if that would help get things back to it’s proper steady state.

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