Guest Post: Standlee on the Future of Worldcon Governance

By Kevin Standlee. [Note: This was originally posted on my Dreamwidth journal and my Facebook page, as a reaction to debate on other people’s pages and elsewhere. I feel comfortable discussing it because it seems unlikely to me that such a set of changes would be introduced at the 2023 WSFS Business Meeting, where I have been announced as the Deputy Chair. It seems to be that the earliest such proposals could come before the Business Meeting is 2024.]

I find myself explaining the changes to membership in the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and the conditions for attending the World Science Fiction Convention that were ratified this year in Chicago (and thus are now in effect, because this was the second vote on the changes). I think some people assume that I’m 100% in favor of them or that I even authored them, neither of which are true.

The Non-Transferrability Amendment

The 2022 WSFS Business Meeting ratified a change to the WSFS Constitution that renamed the existing Supporting Membership of Worldcon as a “WSFS membership” and the existing Attending membership as the “Attending supplement.” It was Item E.5 of the 2022 WSFS Business Meeting agenda. This is the proposal that first passed as item F.6 of the 2021 WSFS Business Meeting. (See minutes here. The 2021 minutes includes the makers’ original supporting arguments. Video recordings of the debates in 2021 and 2022 are available from the YouTube Worldcon Events channel.)

The effect of the change is that what was the Supporting membership is now your membership in the World Science Fiction Society, and that WSFS memberships cannot be transferred to other people. What was an Attending Membership is now a WSFS membership + an Attending Supplement. You can transfer an Attending Supplement to someone; however, they can only use it to attend Worldcon if they also have a WSFS membership. Worldcon is the annual meeting of WSFS, and therefore you have to be a member of WSFS to attend it. If you have a WSFS membership, you can use your WSFS voting rights (nominate/vote for the Hugo Awards, participate in Site Selection), and if you have a WSFS membership + Attending Supplement, you can also attend Worldcon and also participate in the WSFS Business Meeting held at Worldcon. If you have an Attending supplement without a WSFS membership, you cannot attend Worldcon because you have to have a WSFS membership as well.

This change has agitated and confused many people. Some people think it is selling a Worldcon admission on its own, which is not quite true because you still have to have a WSFS (old supporting) membership to go with it in order to use it. As Dave Howell put it in debate this year, the Attending Supplement is like an expansion package to an existing game; you can’t play the expansion by itself — you have to have the game.

It seems that this change has caught a lot of people, including people who attend many Worldcons and who have attended the Business Meeting, by surprise. Some appear to consider themselves blindsided by the change, even though it has gone through the full process of two consecutive years’ meetings and is now the rule of WSFS. When it was ratified, I heard many people saying, “Well, we’ll just have to try and vote it down next year,” and they seemed highly surprised that it had already had first passage. Now I think part of this comes from those people who opposed the change not doing a very good job of communicating what the change was. It passed both years, but not overwhelmingly so. First passage passed 35-22, and ratification passed 46-40.

How WSFS is Governed

Every year, after each Worldcon, we hear many people complaining about some action the Business Meeting took, and it seems that every year people start talking about changing how the WSFS rules are changed. Maybe I’m wrong, but most of them seem to be versions of “Let people vote by proxy” or “Have a gigantic zoom call so everyone can participate.”

Personally, I think the governance structure of WSFS is not fit for purpose anymore. Currently, WSFS is governed by the WSFS Business Meeting, a “town meeting” form of government under which any WSFS member who can attend Worldcon may attend, propose changes, debate, and vote on those changes. I think a membership organization that has had upwards of 10,000 members (many of whom cannot attend the annual meeting) is not well served by this system. Indeed, I was not surprised to read that there are people who assume that there is a WSFS Board of Directors that makes all of the Real Decisions anyway.

My preferred solution would be to replace the “town meeting” governance with an elected representative government model that I call the Council of WSFS. I suggest 21 members (roughly the cube root of 10,000; Google “cube root rule” for why I think it’s a good number). All of the members of WSFS, including the non-attending members, could elect members to this Council. We would elect 7 members each year, for three-year terms.

Initially, I would replace all of the “Business Meeting” references with “Council of WSFS.” That is, the Council would meet at Worldcon, and it would be the body that initiates changes to the WSFS Constitution. However, instead of two consecutive years’ Council meetings at Worldcon being necessary to change the Constitution, I would require that changes passed by the Council in Year 1 be put to a vote of members of WSFS of the Worldcon in Year 2, run in parallel with (but not on the same ballot) as the Hugo Awards Final Ballot. The results of ratification votes would be announced in advance of the Worldcon in Year 2. Yes, this does mean that only people who join WSFS before the Hugo/Ratification voting deadline could participate in the election.

This is not WSFS Inc. And even if it was, it wouldn’t run Worldcons.

WSFS WOULD NOT SELECT SITES. WSFS WOULD NOT BE THE LEGAL ENTITY RUNNING WORLDCONS. I stress this because I’ve already seen people assuming that this new governance model would be the World Science Fiction Society, Incorporated., with a full-time professional paid staff, and that it would be the operating entity of all Worldcons. That would be foolish. WSFS doesn’t operate Worldcons now; it (in effect) licenses the right to hold them to operating committees, and I see no reason to change this.

WSFS’s Intellectual Property

The World Science Fiction Society owns service marks (“Worldcon,” “The Hugo Awards,” and others). Technically, WSFS (an unincorporated literary society) owns the marks in the USA only, as that is how it’s registered by the US Patent & Trademark Office.

In places that do not recognize unincorporated associations as entities that can hold title to service marks — in practice, everwhere except the USA — there is a legal entity: Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP). WIP is a California public benefit non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose board of directors is by definition the members of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee, plus when necessary a non-voting member resident of California when none of the MPC members are California residents. (The WIP bylaws require at least one Californian on its board.) This would not change under a Council of WSFS as proposed here. The Council would still elect members to the MPC. Worldcons and NASFiCs would still appoint members to the MPC. The MPC would still continue to manage and protect WSFS’s intellectual property.

Shadow Implementation

Now we could actually shadow-implement part of this soon: Have Worldcons conduct a non-binding poll of their members in parallel with their final Hugo Award voting, with the results published before Worldcon. That doesn’t require any constitutional changes, and would not be binding upon the existing Business Meeting, but would at least give the non-attending members (and those attending Worldcon who can’t/won’t attend hours of Business Meetings a change to express their opinions.

Proxies and Remote Participation

I am deeply opposed to proxy voting, and think that trying to run a remote-participation meeting that could have thousands of attendees is impractical, even if you could conceivably set up a multi-thousand person Zoom call to try and do it. Direct democracy is very difficult to implement when you get that large, and besides, most of the existing members of Worldcon do not want to invest that much of their time into that level of governance anyway. At most, they want to vote on things without being bothered with all of that tedious debate and rules neepery. I think we as a society would be better served by implementing a way for all of our members to have some voice in the process without forcing anyone who really wants to make any difference give up a large proportion of their Worldcon to do so.

73 thoughts on “Guest Post: Standlee on the Future of Worldcon Governance

  1. A more likely scenario is somebody getting enough disaffected members to vote them on to the body where they could use their position to basically troll and grandstand without actually doing anything of substance. That would be annoying.

    Just the concern I was going to raise before you beat me to it with your syllogistic powers.

  2. In terms of electing a council of this sort, has anyone thought about contacting Jameson Quinn, who was instrumental in developing E Pluribus Hugo, and asking him how it ought to be done? I’m on the Center for Election Science’s e-mail list, and they’re very big into promoting Approval Voting: put out a slate of all the people who want to be elected, everyone gets to vote for as many choices as they want. (I.e.: for each candidate, a voter approves or disapproves of them separately.) And then the top N vote-getters are the winners. I’m emphatically not a scholar in this area, but to my layman’s eye, Approval Voting seems like it would be the best method here.

    (In terms of Puppies getting onto the council: presumably all the Puppies would approve of their candidates…and everyone else would disapprove. So the Puppies would have to make up a majority of the voters to get anyone at all elected, in which case they would deserve to be able to control the council’s composition.)

  3. Andrew (not Werdna) on September 25, 2022 at 1:16 pm said:

    Just the concern I was going to raise before you beat me to it with your syllogistic powers.

    In terms of the worst offenders we could think of, I suspect the moment they could have made any impact electorally would have been 2017. However, a more credible but annoying person might be elected and use the position to be a general pain. That’s just the nature of elected office.

  4. I went over the Electoral Reform Society page that Nicholas Whyte referenced. It is very carefully thought out and optimized for a manual process. There are forms, and each one is color coded. If you have an election with paper ballots and are manually counting the votes, this looks like a good way to do it. But for a reference specification, I would hope for something more concise and mathematical.

    If you want to automate the process, there are open source tools available that already do it. The single-transferable-vote topic on GitHub lists 10 open source repositories, at least a couple of them look promising.

  5. A few ideas to add:
    Any ‘meetings’ referenced do not require physical presence to take part. Electronic presence is sufficient.
    You need a decision on whether the person or the membership has the vote. Is anonymity acceptable/required?
    Would it be reasonable for the council to automatically include a representative from one or both current Worldcon committees? What about bidders?
    Should prospective council members be expected/required to publish some sort of platform or manifesto?

  6. Bernard Peek on September 26, 2022 at 5:11 am said:

    Any ‘meetings’ referenced do not require physical presence to take part. Electronic presence is sufficient.

    Yes. The Mark Protection Committee already has held such meetings. Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (RONR) says this is permissible as long as all members can hear (and see, if a video conference) each other and all have an equal ability to participate. RONR does recommend, but does not require, that such practice be encoded in an organization’s rules, so including this seems to me to not be a problem.

    You need a decision on whether the person or the membership has the vote. Is anonymity acceptable/required?

    Do you mean the WSFS member casting votes for members of the Council? We already have a rule that says that in all WSFS elections, only individual natural persons can cast votes other than “No Preference” (and NP only applies to Site Selection; it’s not the same as None of the Above, as I hope everyone reading this already knows).

    Would it be reasonable for the council to automatically include a representative from one or both current Worldcon committees?

    I see no problem with having the same appointment rules as currently used by the Mark Protection Committee. The only question would be should we reduce the number of elected positions to keep the total count down to a manageable size. This does make the total membership variable due to NASFiCs, but that is not a bid deal, because it really doesn’t matter if there are an odd or even number of total seats. (If anyone wants the lecture on why this is again, you need only ask.)

    What about bidders?

    I don’t think so. If that were the case, someone could get a seat on the Council just by announcing a bid, and Down That Path Lies Madness.

    Should prospective council members be expected/required to publish some sort of platform or manifesto?

    I wouldn’t require it, but I would say that nominees should be given an opportunity to provide statements of a reasonable length to be made available to WSFS members. (“Reasonable” would need a technical definition. Worldcons should not be obliged to publish a candidate’s magnum opus novel just because the candidate claims the work is their manifesto. Personally, I think you should be able to make your point in 500 words or less.

  7. The WSFS membership rule change is dumb, and is going to cause ructions IMHO, especially when people who weren’t paying attention discover they can’t transfer the whole of their attending membership .
    I wasn’t blindsided. Unlike the vast majority of WorldCon attending members I took time out of a packed schedule. go to the meeting, where it was fully discussed, and voted against it. The argument was made that WSFS membership is a thing in itself, like belonging to a club, and actually going is an optional extra, but I don’t believe that’s how most attendees see it.

  8. one practical issue with the Standlee Proposal, which I otherwise kinda like. Have you read the typical WSFS rule ammendent? It’s hard enough to parse one of those multi page documents when you’re in the meeting with the author on hand to attempt an explanation.
    (my favourite intervention from a previous WSFS business meeting, “Point of information. What??”)
    Anything brought to the wider membership for a vote needs to be ruthlessly boiled down to expose the sense. Like one of those state referenda.

  9. My suggestion on manifesto rules (having done this sort of thing before) is that the Returning Officer (or whatever you call them; the person administrating the election) should be granted discretion, but also obliged to announce what the size limit is on a manifesto and how it should be measured: for instance, should candidates be restricted to plain text, or allowed to submit a PDF (with, e.g. a photo of themselves).

    I think it would be a mistake for the constitution to specify particular technologies; far better for the RO to adjust this as appropriate over time. I have dealt with too many organisations whose rules still require “camera-ready artwork”, a term which originates with offset printing from a paper master, and which has no generally agreed or clear meaning in respect of a digital file.

    In addition, the RO should be instructed to have regard to accessibility when specifying the format for manifestos.

    For example, rules for a manifesto (“election address” in the formal terminology of that organisation) in a recent election in which I am participating are: “Each candidate’s election address will consist of a maximum of two A4 pages. Do not run artwork features across both pages. Election addresses should be provided with all fonts and images embedded in the PDF and in a RGB colour profile. The PDF provided should be suitable for use on the internet and not be more than 10MB.”

    In that same election, there is also “Candidates must also submit a plain-text version of their manifesto for voters with access needs.”

    I wouldn’t choose those rules for a WSFS election (for a start, most Americans wouldn’t default to A4), but I thought it was a useful example of why these are the sorts of details that should not be embedded in a hard-to-change constitution, but rather should be specified on a year-by-year basis as technology changes.

    For instance: 500 words: define “word”? Are hyphenated terms one word or two? Do we really want to specify that sort of thing in the constitution, or aren’t we much better off leaving it to the RO who can say “500 words as determined by the word count in Google Docs, submitted in plain text in UTF-8 with CRLF line endings”.

    There are other questions to answer when designing manifesto rules (can candidates include negative information about other candidates; can candidates include endorsements from other people, and if so, do they have to obtain formal permission from those other people; do candidates have to submit copyright permissions for each photo they include or any quoted text; etc etc) for which it is useful for the RO to have discretion, but to ask them to produce rules in advance, and to require them to apply rules in a non-discriminatory fashion as between candidates.

  10. I went over the Electoral Reform Society page that Nicholas Whyte referenced. It is very carefully thought out and optimized for a manual process. There are forms, and each one is color coded. If you have an election with paper ballots and are manually counting the votes, this looks like a good way to do it. But for a reference specification, I would hope for something more concise and mathematical.

    Tom Becker, the rules from the Electoral Reform Society have been implemented by several different independent pieces of open source and free software. Most STV counting programs include several different STV algorithms (there are a host of minor variations); the Third Edition Electoral Reform Society ones are usually described as “ERS97” in the dropdown in most such programs.

    Most of the other STV algorithms do not have a sufficiently-detailed public specification and may vary slightly from one implementation to another (e.g. I have seen three different minor variations for Weighted Inclusive Gregory, all relating to the rounding rules for fractional votes – these will only matter in the extremely rare case of an election being decided by less than one hundredth of a vote).

    The practical differences between the STV algorithms are minimal, but it’s really important to have a completely nailed-down specification, and ERS97 has decades of experience put into it to ensure that there are no cases where the process is unclear or there are disputes on interpretation; that’s why I recommend it over trying to create a bespoke specification.

  11. Peter Card wrote: “The WSFS membership rule change is dumb, and is going to cause ructions IMHO, especially when people who weren’t paying attention discover they can’t transfer the whole of their attending membership .
    I wasn’t blindsided. Unlike the vast majority of WorldCon attending members I took time out of a packed schedule. go to the meeting, where it was fully discussed, and voted against it. The argument was made that WSFS membership is a thing in itself, like belonging to a club, and actually going is an optional extra, but I don’t believe that’s how most attendees see it.”

    I totally agree, which is why I want to introduce an amendment to return to the former terminology with the one possible change that any unused rights associated with a membership belong to the new owner. That may mean having to assign a different badge number in order to turn off any rights that were previously used.

  12. I think we should all take it in turn to act as a sort of executive-officer-for-the-week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major or external affairs.

  13. @Kevin Standlee
    Several times you have mentioned the Mark Protection Committee as a model of how a council could work. It seems to me that the roles of the MPC and a council are so different that one shouldn’t just assume the MPC is a good model.

    For example, the MPC has a narrow mandate, and exists to execute that mandate. The council would be more of a legislative type body, whose scope is as broad as it wants to or needs to be. The members of the MPC are representative only in the broadest sense, and there’s no real reason for one member to operate from a different philosophy than any other member. Council members, OTOH, could campaign from platforms, and one council member’s platform could be totally different than another’s, and different factions of WSFS membership could organize under different council members who might have opposing philosophies regarding what WSFS should do.

  14. bill on September 26, 2022 at 10:57 am said:

    Several times you have mentioned the Mark Protection Committee as a model of how a council could work. It seems to me that the roles of the MPC and a council are so different that one shouldn’t just assume the MPC is a good model.

    Considering that the Mark Protection Committee is the descendant of the body that would have been the board of directors of an incorporated WSFS, I don’t see why not. While the remit of the MPC was narrowed, the way it was constituted was not.

  15. Richard Gadsden on September 26, 2022 at 7:00 am said:

    For instance: 500 words: define “word”? Are hyphenated terms one word or two? Do we really want to specify that sort of thing in the constitution, or aren’t we much better off leaving it to the RO who can say “500 words as determined by the word count in Google Docs, submitted in plain text in UTF-8 with CRLF line endings”.

    We already use such “word” in the definitions of four Hugo Award categories without attempting to define what a “word” is for this purpose, leaving it to the Hugo Award Administrators. If you want to change that, I suggest that you should submit a separate proposal for a technical definition of “word length” that would apply generally to everything in the WSFS Constitution.

    Beware of the toothpaste-tube problem: the tighter you squeeze, the bigger the mess you make.

    Peter Card on September 26, 2022 at 6:51 am said:

    One practical issue with the Standlee Proposal, which I otherwise kinda like. Have you read the typical WSFS rule [amendment]? It’s hard enough to parse one of those multi page documents when you’re in the meeting with the author on hand to attempt an explanation.

    Anything brought to the wider membership for a vote needs to be ruthlessly boiled down to expose the sense. Like one of those state referenda.

    Agreed; indeed, my thoughts on this are heavily influenced by having lived most of my life in California. The state’s Legislative Analyst prepares the analysis of proposed state constitutional amendments, while the proponents and opponents submit arguments for and against the amendments (and those arguments are not very long). I am loathe to over-specify things (the toothpaste-tube problem again), but one possibility would be to put the Nitpicking & Flyspecking Committee in charge of preparing the explanations. I suggest that we make that level of detail a standing rule and thus more easily adjusted by the Council, rather than writing it into the Constitution.

    Remember that what you see as the “explanation” of most proposals in the agenda are essentially the proponents’ argument. They are not relatively neutral explanations of how the proposal would work. OTOH, they do help determine “legislative intent” when trying to interpret the wording later.

  16. Kevin Standlee on September 26, 2022 at 3:08 pm said:

    We already use such “word” in the definitions of four Hugo Award categories without attempting to define what a “word” is for this purpose, leaving it to the Hugo Award Administrators. If you want to change that, I suggest that you should submit a separate proposal for a technical definition of “word length” that would apply generally to everything in the WSFS Constitution.

    Beware of the toothpaste-tube problem: the tighter you squeeze, the bigger the mess you make.

    My argument is the opposite: rather than specifying a limit to the length in the constitution (because any such rule will rapidly become out of date as technology changes), we should require the Returning Officer (or other administrator of the election) to lay out these limits in advance each year, with the constitution merely laying down some guidelines (requirement to account for accessibility to the voters, must be published with a reasonable notice period to candidates).

    If we say “500 words”, and I run Google’s wordcount and get 500 and then the RO runs MS Word’s wordcount and gets 501, would they truncate the last word, allow it, reject the manifesto, or reject the entire candidature? The first three are all reasonable interpretations. If the RO doesn’t say how they are measuring the words in advance, then I have no way to be sure my manifesto complies other than submitting it and hoping. Far better to let the RO decide what they will and will not accept and how they will decide whether or not it is compliant – but require them to make that procedural decision in advance and announce it.

    Should a returning officer be obliged to, for instance, transcribe a hand-written manifesto into an electronic format? I’d say “no”, but if they are to be able to require manifestoes to be in an electronic format, then they have to inform candidates in advance of what formats are and are not acceptable. This is likely to vary from RO to RO depending on what technology they have available, and from year to year as technology develops – so why not just give them discretion in the first place?

    We do use “word” in Hugo categories, but note that: first, there is no length that would be rejected entirely, it would merely be moved to another category, and second, there is considerable latitude given to the nominators and administrator to allow a work to be included in a category even if it is slightly over or under the length if the nominators feel it belongs in a particular category. As a result a dispute over whether a novel is 40,000 words or 39,999 is a meaningless dispute. But if a manifesto would be rejected entirely for being 501 words, then it is really important to have a definition of “word” that a candidate can check their manifesto against before submission.

    There is also the fact that WSFS (or the worldcon conducting the election) would be the publisher of the manifestos, meaning that they are liable for those manifestos – the RO should be explicitly empowered to refuse to publish a manifesto because they believe it to be defamatory, obscene, or otherwise unlawful to publish (according to the laws of the jurisdiction where the worldcon is and the laws of where WSFS is registered). Do I think manifesto writers are likely to libel other candidates? I think it would be something worth making provision against (for example, I would be very carefully checking any manifesto submitted by Vox Day). Note that they have to be able to reject because they think it’s defamatory, and not because it is defamatory.

    My proposed language would be along these lines:

    “Each candidate shall be entitled to a personal manifesto to be displayed electronically, in a format to be determined by the Returning Officer. The format for manifestos shall be published at the time of the publication of the notice of elections. When determining the format, the Returning Officer shall have regard to ensuring that the manifestos shall be accessible to as great a proportion of the electorate as can reasonably be achieved; this may include requiring or permitting manifestos to be submitted in multiple formats. The Returning Officer may reject any manifesto if, at their sole discretion, they believe it to be defamatory of another candidate or unlawful to publish in any relevant jurisdiction.”

  17. TLDR but I’d have WSFS like a company AGM. Before the AGM you are sent a form with the resolutions and a list of nominees to be directors. You can attend or fill in the form with your views or appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf. Personally I’d probably glance at the form at the resolutions and nominees, which is more I do for any of my shareholdings, vote on a few and pick a proxy to decide the rest, and not worry about the Business Meeting again.

    If you are getting a WSFS membership explicitly now, you really do need to have a vote even if you don’t attend the physical room.

  18. Richard Gadsden on September 25, 2022 at 8:43 am said:
    I’d make WSFS responsible for running a WSFS membership system and the Hugo ballots (and the WSFS ratifying ballots and Site Selection), with the Worldcons only running the attending supplement membership system; this would make GDPR compliance enormously easier

    GDPR compliance for the data we transfer to the next-year’s-Worldcon for the purpose of current-Worldcon members exercising their Hugo Award nominating rights in next-year’s-Worldcon, which are a right that comes with the membership they purchased and part of executing that membership contract with the member, isn’t particularly complicated and definitely doesn’t require a major overhaul of how WSFS and individual Worldcons relate to each other.

  19. Some thoughts about the implementation of some form of Popular Ratification as discussed above (whether advisory or not):

    1) How well will voters understand the issue at stake? For votes in the Business Meeting, it’s generally the case that people voting have at least sat through a brief discussion of pros and cons before the vote (at least one of each), even if they are new to the meeting and hadn’t thought about it ahead of time. For con-goers getting hit with another voting sheet alongside their Hugo ballots, this may not be true. We know that WSFS governance is not necessarily well understood by the membership at large. We can point people to minutes of previous meetings where the proposal was discussed, but it doesn’t mean people will read them.

    2) If a proposal is defeated, can supporters of the original motion determine what the objections were that caused the defeat (in hopes of submitting a more acceptable proposal in the future)? Again, this is something that often gets hashed out in debate at the BM, but may get lost in a straight up-or-down vote of the membership.

    3) What if there are overlapping or related proposals on the ballot? I may want to vote for A only if B does/doesn’t pass. That’s possible to arrange at a BM where we are voting serially, with the help of a “postpone A until after B” motion if necessary. It doesn’t seem possible to do this on a ballot where we vote for everything at once. California sort of muddles through on this with the help of a “the proposition that gets more votes wins if elements conflict” rule, but it often needs the courts to sort it out.

    4) It’s possible for a con to run an advisory vote now without constitutional changes, but that doesn’t mean everyone will understand the advisory nature of the vote. My experience with a 50-member HOA is that any time we run an advisory vote that is more formal that a quick straw poll of those present at a meeting, there are people who will either expect the vote to be binding, or not understand why they are asked to vote at all, and get upset about it. Even though the ballot says clearly that the vote is just advice to the board, who will make the final decision. (A rather more famous political example might be the Brexit plebiscite, which I understand was officially advisory but treated as binding after the fact. Those more familiar with the politics involved may wish to clarify.)

    So with these various potential drawbacks, is there a better way to get advisory feedback from the WSFS membership at large on proposals up for ratification? I think so, and you are looking at an example. If the BM just wants advisory feedback from the membership on proposals up for ratification, a blog discussion open to the membership with participation from a bunch of active BM participants is a pretty good way to go. It gives people a chance to explain the nuances of their position and ask questions from those who are more familiar with the details of the proposals. If we are only looking for advisory feedback, in most cases we won’t need a formal vote. Just a general sense of the room will usually suffice, and a well-crafted argument may carry more weight that a dozen “ditto” comments.

    We’ve had good examples of such discussions here in the past (the recent discussion on the sunset vote for EPH comes to mind, which uncovered more detailed data during the debate that I was then able to share at the actual meeting). But not every WSFS member will know to look at file770 for discussions. I think a ConCom could choose to host their own blog, with articles on each item up for ratification and comments open to all WSFS members (subject to the CoC of course, to prevent abuse), and could point people to those articles in email updates. The articles could point out that the BM is open to any attending member and note when relevant votes would be likely to occur. If we were to allow limited proxies at some point in the future (no more than 1 or 2 per member at the meeting, to prevent the person with 1000 proxies problem), such a discussion could also allow a member who couldn’t attend the meeting to ask who would be willing to carry their proxy.

    This proposal could also be implemented without any constitutional changes, and I think it could offer higher-quality feedback from the membership than a straight up-or-down advisory vote. Comments?

  20. Dave Wallace on September 28, 2022 at 2:14 am said:

    We can point people to minutes of previous meetings where the proposal was discussed, but it doesn’t mean people will read them.

    That’s true of any governance system. I doubt that even a majority of the people attending the Business Meeting have read the entire arguments (especially some of the more turgid ones) submitted for proposals. It is at least more plausible that a smaller Council would consist of people more prepared to study the issues.

    I think that with properly-implemented Shadow Implementation, you could get the feedback. Worldcons could submit the items up for ratification, along with an analysis of their impact (I suggest the Nitpicking & Flyspecking Committee is the nearest thing we have to the California Legislative Analyst’s office for preparing this) and arguments for and against the proposals (I suggest that the following year’s Business Meeting staff would have to administer and coordinate this process). Such a poll would, I suggest, be distributed at the same time (but not on the same ballot paper) as the final Hugo Award ballot, and the results published shortly before Worldcon. The poll would have to be very explicit that the poll was advisory only.

    Yes, this takes work.

    4) It’s possible for a con to run an advisory vote now without constitutional changes, but that doesn’t mean everyone will understand the advisory nature of the vote.

    I’m aware of the political risks, and that many people would assume that the entire membership’s vote would have to be binding on “whoever turns up at the Business Meeting,” but without a full-blown Popular Ratification, that is all that could be done at the moment.

    A variation of the Council of WSFS proposal would be to include the member poll in the second year, but to not make the result binding upon the Council. In other words, constitutional changes would need two consecutive years’ Council meetings to be ratified, but in between there would be an advisory poll of WSFS members.

    3) What if there are overlapping or related proposals on the ballot?

    I think this less likely if constitutional amendments originate from the Council, because they’re more likely to realize that they’ve created a conflict. If they did so, I would expect that they would include provisions to deal with ratification, including possibly the California provision that if they both pass, the one with the most Yes votes takes precedence.

    The California conflicts between competing proposals are a side-effect of initiative democracy. While I would not rule it out as a possibility — i.e. letting people bypass the Council entirely by getting enough WSFS members to sign off on a proposal — I would not include it in the original proposal. Remember: try to change as few variables as possible. Replacing the Town Meeting (WSFS Business Meeting) with an elected representative body (Council of WSFS) is a big enough change without throwing in even more changes at the same time.

    If the BM just wants advisory feedback from the membership on proposals up for ratification, a blog discussion open to the membership with participation from a bunch of active BM participants is a pretty good way to go.

    I think you are being excessively optimistic about the likelihood that a substantial proportion of WSFS members would engage in such an online discussion. At best, you’d mainly get the people who already attend the Business Meeting, with most people throwing up their hands and saying, “What’s the use? The SMOFS decide everything, and there’s nothing I can do.”

    If we were to allow limited proxies at some point in the future (no more than 1 or 2 per member at the meeting, to prevent the person with 1000 proxies problem),

    You do realize how much this would slow down most votes, wouldn’t you? Also, Any sensible person planning to attend the meeting would just get the maximum number of proxy votes (P) so that they would not be reduced to 1/(P+1) votes, and you would get, at best, a standoff.

    Proxies are fundamentally undemocratic, and would reduce WSFS to a stockholder-type organization, with proxy battles. I don’t think people realize how much trouble this would cause. I get the feeling that most people think that only a tiny number of people would every send proxies, and it would not fundamentally change the nature of the meeting.

    I’ve been involved in a lot of WSFS Business Meetings. Some Worldcons have all-but-ignored the Meeting. Others have made a fair effort to communicate to the members that the meeting exists. Loncon 3, for example, devoted an entire issue of the at-con newsletter to communicating the issues and telling people when and where the meeting was. I’m not convinced that any of those efforts markedly increased participation. Most of the people at Worldcon do not know and do not care. Some of them who do know and care have other responsibilities. I suspect some of them just assume that all “real” decisions are made by Sekrit Masters of Fandom and they can have no effect on them. Some of them (some of whom have commented here) are convinced that ALL GOVERNMENT IS EVIL and I’ve tried to restrain myself from engaging with them because it’s a waste of time.

    Would a Council/Popular Ratification model make every WSFS member participate? Of course not. But it would remove a very valid argument that the current governance system of the World Science Fiction Society is unrepresentative of its members. We already poll the members for the Hugo Awards. If the members’ opinions are invalid for the Business Meeting, are they also invalid for the Hugo Awards?

  21. John Bray on September 27, 2022 at 8:28 am said:

    TLDR but I’d have WSFS like a company AGM. Before the AGM you are sent a form with the resolutions and a list of nominees to be directors. You can attend or fill in the form with your views or appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf.

    WSFS is not a stock corporation with shareholders. It is a non-profit literary society. Adding proxies to the AGM would significantly lengthen the meetings, given the necessity of doing the proxy vote counting.

    Why do so many people think that proxy voting is good, but voting on lists of proposals and electing representatives to a Council is bad?

  22. Elections are complicated things, especially if implemented by people who design Hugo ballots. A proxy is a simple “X is a good egg, they will do the right kind of thing so I don’t need to be bothered” which seems more appropriate for those not deeply concerned about WSFS.

  23. Proxies aren’t a perfect solution – it may well be that something like the Council proposal is a better way to go long term. But they do address the real problem of an attending member who is strongly interested in participating in a particular vote but is unable to be present for the vote in person due to Dealer’s Room/volunteer responsibilities/panel attendance/COVID quarantine, etc.

    If we were to limit it to one proxy per in-person voter, I think we would avoid most of the hazards identified earlier. It wouldn’t need to slow the voting down much at all. Just register your proxy with the head table in advance, and get two voting cards for show-of-hands votes, one for each hand. In a serpentine, just flash your cards and call off two numbers instead of one. And as far as setting off a proxy arms race, I think that is unlikely if we remember that the main purpose of Judy giving John her proxy isn’t about over-empowering John, it’s about allowing John to stand in place of Judy, who couldn’t be present but has an interest in the outcome of the vote. In some cases, that may lead to people voting the proxy opposite to their personal vote, depending on what instructions Judy may have given John along with her proxy.

    Speaking personally, I don’t think that some people using single proxies would lead me to conclude that I need to do the same in self-defense. Particularly if proxies were more of an occasional thing that appeared to be used mostly for the intended purpose, I don’t think it would unbalance the voting results much, even if a few people seemed to use it strategically. Not the way someone showing up with a dozen proxies would.

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