Lists, leaks, and IBMA intrigue

The arrival of the first IBMA awards ballot is always interesting in one way or another, this year more interesting than most. Still, after having to start over this week with a new and less confusing ballot, folks at the IBMA offices remained upbeat. One unnamed source described last week as “way better than it could have been,” adding that they’d had a “much better week than either United Airlines or Sean Spicer.”

In case you missed it, the first ballot contained the usual reference list, consisting of recordings that had been released within the eligibility period, with voters urged to consult the list, with the disclaimer that it was likely incomplete, so don’t consult it too much: “note: this list is a reference only, as it does not likely contain all recorded product released within the eligibility period” (this is truer than I’d like it to be).

In an effort to be “more inclusive” this year, additional names were added in various categories, some drawn from recordings on the reference list, some drawn from a well in a random bluegrass musician’s backyard. And, so as not to overdo the inclusiveness, and to create an uproar (because who doesn’t love a good uproar?), they excluded a lot of eligible names.

The IBMA, acknowledging that this was more than a little confusing, since for starters no one was really sure what these additional lists signified, decided to scrap it and start over with the first semi-complete reference list and nothing else.

But there may be more to the story than that.

Thanks to inside communications obtained thru Bluegrass WikiLeaks, brought to my attention by a “bluegrass enthusiast” named Dmitri Smozhnavidnikov, we’re learning that there may be warring factions within the IBMA, each wanting to take the awards voting process in different directions. This may explain some of what went on in the past week.

It turns out that one faction seeks to broaden voter participation at any cost, with the goal of having the awards represent a larger cross-section of members, and perhaps ultimately to get someone new nominated in the dobro category (though they acknowledge this could still be a decade away).

The other faction hopes to reduce voter participation by employing various voter suppression techniques. Their mission is to insure that The Earls of Leicester win all the awards. Forever.

The material that I’ve now spent over 5 minutes analyzing suggests that the first erroneous ballot may have been no accident at all; it represented a victory by the forces seeking to broaden participation. After all, nothing generates publicity for an election like having to reissue a ballot after the first one sparks a lot of complaints. It gets people interested and discussing the process. Next thing you know they’re actually voting.

This small strategic win for the increase-the-vote faction, though, may be short-lived, as Bluegrass WikiLeaks has now released a secret proposal for a complete overhaul of the IBMA awards process that, if implemented, will be a much more significant victory for the suppress-the-vote crowd.

Here’s what that proposal looks like: 

The first ballot will contain no eligibility reference list whatsoever. Voters will have to go from memory and their knowledge of album release dates. IBMA reserves the right to throw out any names that are not eligible later. Any artist names or song titles which are misspelled will be disqualified. The period for voting will be from April 14th at 9:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time to April 15th at 6:00 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

There will be no second ballot. A committee of five people chosen by another committee of three people will look at all of the entries, throw out most of them, then decide who the five nominees will be in each category.

The final ballot will look similar to how it does now, but electronic voting, with its invitation to hacking and voter fraud will not be allowed. Instead, voters will need to cast their ballots in person in one of two locations in the US: the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, NC, and for voters in the western US and Canada, an Ingles supermarket in Durham, NC. European and Asian voters will vote at at the central train station in Helsinki, Finland. Voting will take place on August 1st from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. local time.

All voters will need their IBMA membership card, two forms of government-issued photo ID, and their own personal drawing or painting (oils only) of Ralph Stanley. They will also need to recite IBMA’s new slogan, now in latin: “Vestri ‘incipiens ut in nervis meis” (“You’re starting to get on my nerves”).

It’s not yet clear from the leaked emails whether this proposal has any chance of gaining board approval any time soon. According to unnamed sources inside the organization, it’s still more likely that we’ll continue to choose our award nominees and winners the way we have been.

However that is.