IBMA ballot reboot, restarts on Tuesday

First round balloting for the 2017 International Bluegrass Music Awards, which was to have begun last week, has been stopped with a new ballot being prepared for voting members today.

While there was no error in the existing ballot, some members felt that confusion could result from a list of eligible recordings and artists that was distributed with the ballot. It has been the IBMA’s habit for many years to include a list of eligible recordings as an aid to members when voting, as the eligibility period for the awards does not run on the calendar year. In addition, an album that wasn’t released during the eligibility period, but which received significant radio play during that time, would also be eligible.

The organization had always stated in materials included with the ballots that the list was not complete, and that there could be many other recordings that meet the eligibility requirements. But this year’s list also included the names of some artists to be considered for individual awards, and though it was again stated that the list was not exhaustive, some members felt that it could confuse voters and was thus unfair to performers whose names were not included.

The list is compiled each year by the IBMA, in response to a general call for submissions. Artist representatives, record labels, or artists themselves are invited to submit recordings that they would like to be listed. In fact, fans and non IBMA members are also able to submit projects they feel are worthy. No one from the IBMA adds any names to the list, and only removes submitted albums should they fail to meet the eligibility rules.

An email is sent to all members when the list is being compiled, and we generally post a notice here as well. The change this year was the decision to include individual names, which came about as a result of many requests from members. It would seem that while a lengthy list of recordings was submitted, very few artist names were on the list, almost surely because many members had not noticed the change.

A number of notable IBMA members voiced their displeasure on Friday, asserting the fact that this first round of balloting determines who goes on to the second and then the final round, and that not having their names listed put those performers at a distinct disadvantage.

Employing an abundance of caution, and a determination to make the process as fair to everyone as possible, Executive Director of the IBMA, Paul Schiminger, cancelled the votes tabulated to date, and contacted the membership by email to alert them to this fact. All members, even those who had already completed a first round ballot, will receive a new ballot link tomorrow.

Schiminger accepted responsibility on behalf of the organization.

“It seems we erred in two ways. First, it is apparent that our communication with members about this list was not sufficient to avoid confusion. Second, not having a comprehensive list in each category, even if entered by members, had the potential for misleading voters when casting their ballots.   
Therefore, we have stopped the balloting process and plan to send a new ballot on Tuesday to every professional member. We are sorry that this will require you to submit a new ballot, but we felt it was the only fair and equitable way to handle this situation. You will receive a new email with a link to cast your vote and a link to the Reference List that will only contain recorded project submissions we received previously.
Please remember that ANY artist may be nominated. Also, ANY recorded project meeting the eligibility guidelines may be nominated, not just those appearing on the Reference List.
I personally apologize for this inconvenience. Having a high standard of fairness is critical to maintaining the prestige of the IBMA’s Awards.”

Paul shared with us directly that the expanded list was an effort to create more opportunities for artists to be recognized early in the process.

“With the best of intentions, we wanted to help out a larger group of artists who hoped to be considered as people are filling out their ballots. But people were used to the way it had been, and we didn’t go overboard in our communication to make clear how the submission process had changed, as perhaps we should have. When members didn’t see their names, or the names of others they support, they became upset and confused.

“Since there is no way to have a comprehensive list of artists, even if it’s self-submitting, it seemed best to eliminate the expanded list and go back to the way we had always done it.”

Though Schiminger did not make this point, please allow us to reinforce to all artists in bluegrass, whether they belong to the International Bluegrass Music Association or not, that it is ultimately your responsibility to submit the name of your recordings to the organization for inclusion on the reference list. Should the new policy of including individual artists be continued in future, that will be your responsibility as well.

If you care deeply about your eligibility for the organization’s annual awards, be sure that you, your band, your album, or your songs are submitted.

IBMA is a member-driven organization, and it seems that they have responded quickly and responsibly to member concerns in this matter.

They reported an increase in voting for the awards last year of nearly 15%. Perhaps this little controversy will lift the percentage of members who vote even more!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.