Tuesday, November 16, 2021 0 comments

Admin Like It's 1999

This past week, some old friends and coworkers from my pre-election days at Sprint arranged a reunion Zoom event.

It was great to greet faces I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years, talking about achievements from the 1990s. 

We were part of Sprint’s Wholesale unit, previously the Diversified Brands Group, and this group was incredibly successful.  As a team, we saw annual revenues grow from $500 million to $1.5 billion in a five-year period.

That was back when everyone had to emphasize, “That’s Billion, with a ‘B’.”  Funny, “Trillion with a ‘Truh’,” doesn’t have the same pop…

Anyway, our customers were resellers who sold under their brand names.  Our average customer billed more than $1 million monthly.  Sprint was the number three retail player with less than 10 percent market share, so these smaller players extended Sprint’s reach into underserved markets and, let’s face it, when you only have 10 percent market share, “underserved,” is a given.

I worked with some brilliant people at that time and became a branding expert.  Really.  I haven’t used “Expert” much in this blog, so please know, Dear Reader, that I didn’t type this boastfully—well, a little boastfully but just because branding seems so out-of-sync with elections.

(The last time “Expert” was used in ElectionDiary was when describing the software “PDF Expert” in http://electiondiary-briandnewby.blogspot.com/search?q=expert, when talking about the suggestion that people sign electronically with a stylus).

Branding may seem to have little to do with elections but there has been a pretty big push of branding in elections over the past year.

“The Big Lie” was branding related to possible election fraud claims by the former president.  What was especially troubling to me about this branding was how many election administrators and members of the election community tweeted this newfound branding, almost from the beginning, a year ago.

Back in my Sprint days, before the 2000 presidential election, election administrators were clearly known by their political impartiality.  My biggest letdown from my four-year career tour in Washington, D.C., was seeing that impartiality vanish among so many I once believed to be impartial.

Further, I don’t think election administrators who tweeted about the “Big Lie,” either felt, or certainly would admit, that they were being partisan.  As the former president might tweet, “Sad!

But then, we have another group who met up in South Dakota in August, and they proceeded to refer to criticisms of the suspected voter fraud (a fallout of the unfortunate claim that the election was the most secure in history) also as “The Big Lie.”

Oh, come on!

You can’t brand something the same as the previous brand!  Even Coke relaunched in the 1980s as  New Coke.

It reminds me, though, of a Los Angeles radio station with a proud billboard of “Follow the Leader,” and then, just ¼ mile later on the highway, another billboard with a competing radio station, “The Leader.”

As the kids say on Twitter, “H/T” to that.

(I’m fully aware actual kids don’t say much on Twitter.  Kids are now on Tik Tok, or even a platform that traditional media hasn't even yet noticed, but remember, this post began with an account of my career about 30 years ago, so, indeed, to me, those actually are kids on Twitter.)

But now, we have “The Big Lie,” vs. “The Big Lie,” our own modern-day “Spy vs. Spy” from Mad Magazine.

Who is making the lie?  Who is partisan?

All of them.

In times like this, I begin to hear REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin croon, “I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for…”

The purpose of this post was two-fold, to lead to some facts but first to call out how just plain awful this whole year-long discussion has been.

I first postulate that a major source of distrust in election results have come from a good thing gone bad—essentially a strength that is now overdone.

Voting by mail is this century’s version of broadband Internet (look at that Sprint tie-in…).  Users of dial-up internet in the 1990s who tried broadband encountered a major speed and user experience difference, never to go back to dial-up.

Voting by mail has become popular and will be more popular after 2020.  We’ve seen enough results in 2021 nationwide to realize that people who tried (or were forced to try) voting by mail liked it enough they aren’t going back.  This is a trend election administrators in Oregon, California, Washington, and Colorado already have witnessed.

To accommodate for postal service delivery cycles and to simply be voter-centric, states have extended the deadline for these ballots to be received, to after election day.

Accommodating voters is a great thing.  But as I’ve often said, we live in a 10 o’clock news society.  People want election results on election day, and they generally expect results announced on election night to stay the same, except for those races “Too close to call.”

I’m not challenging the reasons for this (now, anyway—I will in a future post), but as votes continue rolling like the numbers on a gasoline pump for days after the election, it’s human nature to have some distrust over what is occurring.

This would have been a great time to not turn to social media.  Instead, we had people who knew better frothing things further.  Misinformation has flown heavily since early November 2020 and it has come from all angles, including people in the election administration community.  In fact, I doubt their 2000 election administrator predecessors would have been tempted to utter or type “The Big Lie,” in any context.

(As a pause, I often thought how I would handle having to say profanity in a movie if I was an actor.  I don’t think my mother would accept, “Acting!” as an excuse.  Therefore, because I have typed “Big Lie” in this post, I don’t think I can exempt myself from the following statement.)

If you have used "The Big Lie" in association with the 2020 election, you are part of the polarization problem we are facing today.

Back to the August gathering, where “The Big Lie” is now branded to suggest results were altered in every single county in every state in the 2020 election—as the claims of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election are becoming increasingly revealed as fiction, so must these new claims.

We evaluated these claims in North Dakota, and other states have concluded the same thing.  These, too, are lies.  Maybe COVID's social distancing is to blame--perhaps political opponents expected that they wouldn't be allowed to shake hands after the election, and then these feelings of isolation boiled inward, playing hideous tricks upon their political perception.  

No.  We saw this same tussle in 2018 in Georgia and elsewhere, 2016 with the presidential election, and among national elections in, well, every even year that began with a 20.

Whew, that was a long road to get to the point!

Was it?

The point isn’t that the claims are proven to be false.  Rather, high-profile members of the election administration community lent their credible personal brands to the political branding of the election, supporting political narratives.  It was a formula tested in 2016 and proliferated in 2020.  It has contributed, more than a little, to the overall divisiveness we are experiencing in elections and as a country today.

Maybe a good branding call for all of us in 2024, 25 years since we worried about the coming of Y2K, is to “Party like it’s 1999," although by its nature, that reads partisan as well.  "Admin like it's 1999" doesn't have the same ring to it.

But 1999, pre-2000, that's a message.  At least, that's a message here.

Election administration was a billion times simpler then (with a B), and we could all use a billion times more Simple heading into 2022 and 2024.