I’ve got a word to say about “pilots”. It seems timely given what seems to be a serious uptick in discussion, legislation, and trials of “pilots” of new use of election technology. Actually, the words have already been said, and by people who know much more than I do about it, at the UOCAVA Summit 2010 now available on YouTube’s Overseas Voting Foundation Channel – Summit 2010 Panels. The video is on the topic of pilots, with real-world experiences provided by Alec Yasinsac, Paul Stenbjorn, Carol Paquette, and Paul Docker.
In order to save you the trouble of listening to yours truly in the initial segment, I’ll summarize: the term “pilot” can have two different meanings. One meaning is the neutral meaning: we’re some election officials who are thinking about modifying or adding to the way we conduct an election, so we thought we’d try it out in a small limited way, and learn whether it is actually useful, and if so what issues there might be in making this change at full scale. Elections in recent years included some pilots like this, of early voting, and of voter centers. Not all were successful, and some of the lessons learned were about some real challenges of doing it right in a full election.
The second meaning the scary meaning: we’re some election officials who have pretty much decided that we’re going to modify or add to the way we conduct elections, and we’re going to use the term “pilot” to sneak in some changes as experimental, and use that as a step to making the changes permanent and full scale. I don’t actually know any election officials who work like that, but it is model that some concerned people have in mind.
What you can learn from the video of the panel discussion is some real stories of pilots that people really did as real experiments, what they learned, what they decided was a failure, and what they decided was worthwhile but needing more work before being ready for prime time.
One thing that I have learned by immersing myself in election-land, is that election practices in the U.S. are constantly changing — every week I hear news of some possible change in some state or locality. Election practices are not at all fixed. That’s why I thought it worthwhile to learn how thoughtful election officials try to learn about whether a possible change is actually a good change, or just another good idea.