by Wendy Underhill
A love for baseball seems to be positively correlated with an interest in elections policy.
I make this unscientific statement based on a quick count of election geeks: Tim Storey and Peggy Kerns (from NCSL), Doug Chapin (director of the University of Minnesota’s Excellence in Election Administration program), Rokey Suleman (former executive director of D.C.’s Board of Elections and Ethics), Charles Stewart III (MIT political scientist), Paddy McGuire (Federal Voting Assistance Program), and Zach Markovits and Sean Greene (Pew Center on the States’ Elections Initiatives).
I'm guessing that folks like both elections and baseball because the two are so similar. Both are:
- the most interesting in the fall, what with the World Series and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
- community rituals governed by arcane rules that change depending on the league (or jurisdiction) and can only be fully grasped by the cognoscenti.
- statistics-rich fields ripe for quantitative analysis.
That last point was brought home by Doug Chapin in his blog on Friday. He points to the new movie, Moneyball, that brings the book by the same name to the screen. The book (and presumably the movie, although I haven’t seen it) is about general manager Billy Beane, who made staffing decisions for the Oakland A's based on the ideas of Bill James. James basically invented stats-based analysis for baseball, or “sabermetrics.”
Chapin loves that kind of analysis, whether about baseball or about elections. In his missives he frequently pushes policy makers to work from data, not opinion. His post today ends with this:
I get flak occasionally for using the term "election geek" to describe people who immerse themselves in the minutiae of election administration - but somewhere out there, I hope, are one or more "election geeks" whose passion for the field, mixed with skepticism for the inertia of tradition, will change election administration the same way Bill James transformed baseball.
Well, some legislators do “immerse themselves in the minutiae of election administration,” show a fair amount of "passion for the field," and have tweaked tradition to make elections more cost effective, accurate, and secure. This year, these dedicated people have written laws to permit the use of vote centers, authorize online voter registration, share registration data across state lines, and even experiment with internet voting for overseas citizens. And yet many of these changes likely won’t even make it to the front page of the newspaper, much less the big screen. Too bad, when analysis-based legislative work can lead to better elections.
For related ruminations, see "Is Politics Baseball, or is Baseball Politics?".