Massacre at the TAFF Corral

John Coxon is the 2011 Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund winner because he was the only fan still standing when the parliamentary dust cleared.

TAFF candidate Liam Proven received the most votes, more than twice as many as the next leading candidate, but failed to win because he was disqualified by TAFF’s 20% rule.

The rule requires a candidate to receive 20% of the first-place votes cast on each side of the Atlantic (excluding No Preference.) This year, that meant a minimum of 27 European and 10 North American votes. Proven received only 9 votes from North America.

After Proven the next leading vote-getter was Graham Charnock – but he was also knocked in the head by the rule. In his case, he lacked sufficient European votes.

Paul Treadway failed to poll the minimum on both sides of the Pond.

Only John Coxon – with exactly 27 European votes – survived application of the 20% rule.

It’s breathtaking to realize that despite attracting the largest field of nominees in years, TAFF would have sent no one to Renovation if Coxon had received one less vote in Europe.

How genius is that?

Unless you have a beard as gray as mine you may not remember why the rule even exists – it is rooted in the controversy about Martha Beck’s TAFF candidacy back in the 1980s. The initial idea was that it would be, one might say, a courtesy to prevent the selection of a TAFF delegate who was not wanted by some minimum of fans in the receiving country.

 As explained in Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Taffluvia #2:

Alleviating host-country fears, no one will be able to win TAFF without making at least some effort to get some host-country support. Alleviating other possible fears, correspondingly, no one will be able to win TAFF on a campaign pitched exclusively to the host country, either

The sending-country requirement was somebody’s rider on the original rule, one that must have seemed too unimportant to object to because at the time they were able to say, “[If] TAFF had had it as a rule since day one, it wouldn’t have affected the outcome of a single election.”

Well, now it has. Fandom has finally stepped on that mine. I realize that the rule was ratified by the vast majority of living TAFF delegates at the time — it was a considered decision. But the sending-country side of the rule was not the core idea and ill-serves present day fandom where TAFF candidates are often hard to drum up.

Vote tally:

Voting Europe NA Other Total
Graham Charnock *20 20 ? 40
John Coxon 27 11 ? 38
Liam Proven 75 *9 ? 84
Paul Treadaway *10 *9 ? 19
Hold Over Funds 1 1 0 2
No Preference 1 5 0 6
Total** 134 **55 **1 189

[Via Ansible Links.]

46 thoughts on “Massacre at the TAFF Corral

  1. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that a rule that was intended to prevent controversy is about to unload a boatload full…

  2. Sorry, but I don’t get the objection. The selected candidate was not my preferred option but he won fair and square under the rules which say that a person needs to be recognised on both sides. The whole point of TAFF is a joint venture, therefore it seems reasonable that a candidate should be able to pitch to both sides.

  3. The one-vote discrepancy in the totals line was explained in a footnote (hence the mysterious asterisks) revealing that one “Other” vote from Australia was included under NA to hide the voter’s preferences. I’ve since tidied up the presentation at with an extra line “Privacy adjustment”, to record such transfers without confusing the addition.

  4. In some ways, didn’t the rule work as applied? I mean, from what I read and what I know, they were all fine candidates, and all would have been nifty folk to meet and hang out with in Reno. However, the first place winner by votes cast is Liam, but that skew of votes between the UK and US sides is huge. If I understand correctly, wasn’t that some of the reason for the rule in the first place?

    Is there some way to perhaps tweak the rule, so one side can’t overwhelm the other? I suspect that was more the intention of the rule in the first place. I’d also be curious to find out if the Eastercon somehow gave one candidate an advantage over the others based on geography.

    As I said, I’d have been happy to welcome (and hand shiny gold coins to) any TAFF delegate who happens to cross my path. I’m just thinking out loud here.


  5. Repeating a comment I made elsewhere, in response to someone who expressed shock and surprise that this could happen:

    The 20% rule is made known to all potential candidates before they make themselves available to run, and is made available to all voters before they vote: It’s spelt out clearly on the ballot. For someone unfamiliar with the 20% rule the result might be counterintuitive, but voters ought to make themselves familiar with (and accept) the voting system and its implications before they cast their ballots.

  6. As stated in the latest TAFF newsletter, all four candidates were reminded on several occasions to ensure they didn’t concentrate their campaigning on one side of the Atlantic, to avoid falling foul of the 20% rule.

    It’s worth recalling that three of the four candidates in the 1993 race were also eliminated in the same manner. TAFF survived, and the administrators saw no reason to change the rules.

  7. @Farah: The abstract idea that a TAFF winner should have support on both sides of the Atlantic makes sense to everyone. I agree with it. However, TAFF carried on for a couple of decades without a rule to say what percentage of the vote defined who enjoyed that degree of support. Why was a rule added to quantify it? That was done to oil the waters in the aftermath of a tremendous feud.

    I have to say that in 1985 I didn’t know Martha Beck and sympathized with the side that added this rule. She lost, in the process getting 183 votes in North America, 6 in Europe. Later when I did meet her, she proved to be a highly gregarious person and we became good friends. Then I understood why so many people thought she’d make a great TAFF delegate. The Nielsen Haydens, who won, of course were superb delegates.

    I guess I’m struck by two absurdities here: (1) that a mere 11 votes can be deemed to be adequate support but 9 votes is too few, and (2) that a rule inspired by a motive to keep someone from being foisted on the host country ended up whipsawing (and disqualifying) the person with the MOST support from the host country.

    @Doug S: In most TAFF races since the rule was added it has caused one or more candidates to be disqualified, but none of them received enough votes to win so it didn’t matter. It has never happened before that a potential winning candidate (Charnock, after the elimination of Proven) was disqualified for lack of support in the sending country, and such an outcome was publicly dismissed by TAFF administrators as a serious possibility at the time the sending-country minimum was made part of the 20% rule. So why would you assume a lack of familiarity with TAFF’s rules must be to blame if someone is surprised or shocked by this unprecedented outcome?

  8. I’m not a fan of the 20% rule in 4+ Person races, though it certainly worked out in my favor as I was hoping that John would win (and I commented to a few people at CorFlu that I expected John to be the only one to get 20% on both sides). There’s just too much in the way of spread that can happen with four candidates. Usually, it’s not a problem, there were 4 candidates when I won for example, and all three of the others would have been eliminated by the 20% percent rule. It’s probably time to reconsider it when it comes to large races.

    Still, in this race, more than 1/2 of the voters could end up feeling like their vote counted for nothing. That’s not a great thing, but it happens.

    I do know this: John will be a great delegate, a great administrator and will work hard for TAFF. That’s the most important thing in my book.

  9. @Chris: Thanks to the artful TAFF promotion of The Drink Tank, Steve Green, and the candidates themselves I felt I ended up knowing enough about all four fans in the race to be happy with any of them as the delegate. I share your confidence in John.

    You’ve also cut to the core of the problem — I don’t think it’s healthy for any fannish cause run by majority rule to end up with half the voters in the position of backing technically disqualified candidates. Bad enough that the front runner failed to get enough host country support. But to lose the second place fan, too? The point of having a vote is to select somebody that most people want. A rule which prevents that from happening is a problem.

    When Martha Beck polled 6 votes in Europe that represented less than 5% of the European vote. In 2011, Graham Charnock’s 20 European votes was 15% of that segment. In a four-person race that isn’t a trivial amount of support. But he was disqualified.

    TAFF administrators can see for themselves that it would be helpful to amend the 20% rule so that it no long applies to the sending-country side. That wasn’t the problem people set out to fix in 1985, while it sure can become a problem when TAFF has the good fortune to attract a large field of candidates.

  10. I don’t buy that it’s absurd to disqualify someone by applying the 20% rule to the sending country’s votes. The TAFF delegate is meant to be a representative of the sending country’s fandom – how can they be that if less than 20% of the sending country’s votes came in their direction? My view is that the TAFF candidate should be acceptable to both the sending and hot countries, and that acceptability is measured by the 20% rule. John Coxon was the only candidate who fulfilled those conditions.

  11. The purpose of the 20% rule as applied to the shore of origin is to ensure the winning delegate is a representative delegate of their regional fandom. I recall certain comments about Brian and Anne Gray’s candidacy in the 2009 race from people who didn’t feel “their” fandom (ie. old-style fanzine fandom) was being fairly represented (to be fair, many of them voiced the same concerns about Frank Wu).

  12. @Tony: Sure, it’s the status quo, but if you were devising a rule from scratch why would you choose 20% for your magic number? Then if I may ask, why would you choose a percentage instead of an absolute number? If 10 fans is enough to satisfy the rule’s advocates — which is the defenders’ implicit position here — why not simply make the requirement 10 votes? Now to me 10 votes seems pretty thin to constitute “support” among the fans of an entire continent and if there’s a genuine need to disqualify candidates who don’t have that level of support the rule isn’t getting the job done regardless of whether 10 votes is 20% of the total.

  13. There’s also the question of balance. Applying the 20% rule on the NA side only would have left Graham in the race and eliminated Liam, despite the former getting 22% of the total first-place votes and the latter 46%. How do you think European fandom would feel if a candidate who scored 56% of its first-place votes was simply ignored because only one voting block called the shots?

  14. @Steve: You realize, no doubt, that if one of Coxon’s 27 European voters had put another candidate first on his/her ballot then everybody would have been technically disqualified, you’d have had four candidates, 189 voters, and no TAFF delegate going to Renovation. I’m pretty sure European fandom wouldn’t be happier with that result no matter that it meant the rule had been equitably enforced, but that’s the risk with this rule and it came within a hair of happening. And although it didn’t happen, it ought to be enough to make TAFF administrators rethink this rule.

  15. I well understand and would endorse the concept of the 20% rule, as it aims to guarantee bilateral support for the eventual winner. However I wonder if using the 20% limit here meant thebar was set a bit high for this particular race. When I saw the figures, I wondered if it might have created a bit more of a genuine race if there had been a rule that said a two-candidate race should have a 20% bar, a three-candidate one a 17% one, and a race with four or more candidates a 15% bar.

    Having had that idea, I just had to do the sums. The two candidates with more votes than John were Liam and Graham. Liam’s US/Aus vote was 9, and there were 50 voters who expressed a preference. 15% of 50 is 7.5, which means he would have passed the percentage rule test. Graham was seriously short of UK voters by comparison with Liam in particular, but using the same 15% rule for his UK votes – 20 out of 133 – means he has to have at least 19.95 votes, so he would also pass, by one-twentieth of a vote!

    So we would have had a genuine race, and (unless there were some very weird alternate-vote figures) the strength of Liam’s UK support would almost certainly have sent him to the USA. Oh well. I am sure it’s worth looking at the rule again. Especially as it also decimated the 1993 field – I was gafiated at the time that happened, so it is useful to be reminded.

    And in the meantime, I hope John and the people who host and entertain him all have a good time in Reno and the rest of the USA! And Liam is in a good position to stand again next time, I guess.

    — Rob J.

  16. The idea of a sliding percentage is not new, and will no doubt gain some support following this year’s race. Ironically, our main concern on the eve of the launch was an insufficiency of candidates.

  17. Incidentally, Rob, I still believe this was “a genuine race”, indeed one of the best-contested in years. It’s just the point spread which has clouded the outcome.

  18. @Steve: Quite a challenge, as in a sense you had to manage poverty and riches in the same administration. Thanks for being so accessible, too, I appreciate it.

  19. I think, to alleviate future concerns and arguments about such things, a 20% rule would be better off replaced by a 1/(n+2) rule. This would have the effect of increasing the vote requirement for a two-person race but lowering the vote requirement for races with four people or more, and would also (I think) go some way to making sure that such an event is less likely to recur.

    On the subject of whether I should have won, well, I think I’ll represent British fandom well and I have ideas for both the report and the administration that I feel will be positive for the fund as a whole, but then, I am inherently biased. My one hope is that the fans who didn’t vote for me are still supportive of my trip and my administration, but so far, most fans seem more congratulatory than critical, so I am not too worried about that.

  20. @John: Thanks for your comment. North American fans are glad we’ll have the chance to hang out with you for a little while, and I know you’ll get a lot of positive support as fund administrator.

    There are some differing views about whether this election showed a significant flaw in the 20% rule, but even as one fan who thinks it did I can say wholeheartedly that the rule per se was properly interpreted and nobody did anything wrong.

  21. I quite like the idea of a “1/(n+2) rule”, John. The next eastward race is only a few months away (don’t worry, I’ll look after the UK end of the voting, since you have a trip to plan), but there’s no reason why this debate couldn’t come to some kind of conclusion in time for the launch of the next westward race circa November 2012.

  22. Count me as one of the former TAFF administrators who was around at the time it was created (though not yet even a candidate) and who continues to approve of its application.

    Even though it may look to some somehow “unfair” that Liam didn’t win even though he had more first place votes than anyone else *by far*, the fact that he was a virtual unknown over here in the host country worked against him. (Show of hands: how many of y’all over here had heard of him before his name appeared on the ballot?)

    My vote (if voting is called for) is to leave the 20% rule alone, *not* to create a “1/(n+2)” rule, and to consider than this has only happened twice in the 25 years since it was created.

  23. I don’t like the 1/(n+2) rule, as I understand it, because to me it means that the more candidates there are in the race, the less support they need to have on the host side. I’m not sure how that makes sense, if the goal is to make sure a hometown favorite isn’t forced on an indifferent host. Mike’s suggestion that we drop the 20% rule for the “away” side is more interesting to me, although I’d like to see some analysis of past results to see how that might have changed other races. (I know, I know, here’s a calculator … )

  24. Sorry, I meant Mike’s suggestion that the 20% rule be dropped for the home side.

  25. Mike, why are the dates on these posts set in the future? Here on the US East Coast it is presently a bit after 1 AM on Friday, April 29th. Yet, there are those posts from Robert Lichtman and Randy Byers, both whom, like you, live on the US West Coast, where, as I write this, it is only a bit after 10:00 PM on April 28th, and yet their posts are dated in the morning of the 29th.

  26. The 20% rule was introduced for what certainly seemed like good reasons, and there would be no point in having the rule if it never made a difference to the outcome, so it seems unreasonable to complain when it finally does make a difference. I do agree that some kind of sliding scale is needed in future to make the percentage threshold lower when there are more candidates.

  27. Ted, the server can’t put comments in the timezone where the commenter lives, because it doesn’t have that information, so all comments have to be timestamped in the same timezone. The server appears to be giving times in UTC+7, which is a little odd, since that timezone covers places like Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and parts of Russia.

  28. I don’t like removing the 20% rule for the sending continent, as it would essentially mean someone, for instance, from Europe, could go to Corflu, campaign heavily there, and not bother with the UK or European conventions. Such a candidate wouldn’t be a representative of European fandom.

    I’m not much of a fan of sliding percentages myself. If it were me, I would have provision in the rules that should all candidates be disqualified on the 20% rule, then requalify those for who 20% of the continent placed them as first or second preference, and then do a straight run-off.

    In the end, I don’t think this rule shows that TAFF rules need changing, but that TAFF candidates need to learn to campaign more actively in both continents.

  29. I took a look at the voting stats at and was surprised to see that in earlier days people running in the westbound race regularly got more North American votes than European votes. In the 1986 race, all three candidates got more NA votes than Eur votes, although only one more in the case of winner Greg Pickersgill. Had to go back to 1979 to find a North American who had gotten more European than NA votes.

  30. @Randy: Another historical note — there haven’t been very many TAFF races with as low a North American voter turnout as this one. The 2002 race, won by Tobes Valois, attracted only 50 NA voters. Not all the vote results on the TAFF website are broken out by continent so it’s not easy to say for certain when else the NA vote was this low. Yet I thought there was extensive publicity within fanzine fandom, which is vital, and the availability of voting/donating through PayPal made it easy to participate.

    I wonder how many votes were cast at Eastercon and about the possible impact of being able to remind people to vote at a con close to the deadline?

  31. I should add that Tony’s proposed tweak of the 20% rule in case everybody is disqualified is probably the best idea so far.

  32. It would be more work, and this probably has the flavor of an American constitutional compromise, but one method I’ll toss in for consideration….

    * If the candidates exceed 2, there is a first round. The top two vote getters, regardless of continent, then hit a final round…

    * Where they stand in a run-off, and the 20% rule is applied.

  33. @Mike: Well, I persuaded Chris Garcia to run a special TAFF issue of The Drink Tank, got several newsletters across Canada and the USA to carry press releases and produced ads which a number of NA fanzines carried. And despite all that…

    Regarding Eastercon, we gathered 42 ballot forms (of which 41 were valid). All but three were European.

  34. Further to Mike’s comments, I had a look at NA turnout as a percentage of total votes cast for races during the past decade. There is no breakdown available for 2001, and 2007’s race was cancelled.

    Taking eastward races first: 2003, 68%; 2005, 85%; 2008, 69%; 2010, 69%.

    And the westward races: 2000, 38%; 2002, 29%; 2004, 26%; 2006, 34%; 2009, 41%; 2011, 29%.

    It’s clear most recent races have mainly played to the home ground, but also that this year’s NA turnout wasn’t significantly below average.

  35. ps. Whilst it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample, the two European delegates with the highest NA percentage in those six eastward races were Sue Mason and myself. Both of us regularly contributed to NA fanzines during the years leading up to our standing, which underlines Tony’s comment above about candidates needing to be familiar to the target territory.

  36. This discussion makes me wonder where my own vote was tallied – does “Other” count in the total votes through which the percentage is calculated? Is it moved to one side or the other? Never occurred to me to wonder about how this would affect the 20% rule until now.

  37. @Janice: Not that I would know, but I had guessed yours was the “privacy” adjustment — rolled up with the votes of one of the main countries for accounting, then subtracted when calculating the 20% rule.

  38. @Mike: Given the description of the “privacy” vote, I’m pretty sure it’s mine, too :-> , but I wasn’t sure how it was handled mathematically. Thanks!

  39. Many moons ago someone on the Timebinders email list posed a couple of questions about DUFF, including asking if it uses the 20% rule. Inspired by the query I did a check of what would have happened to the various DUFF and GUFF races had the 20% rule applied. I found one GUFF race and (maybe) one DUFF race where no candidate would have won.

  40. “the two European delegates with the highest NA percentage in those six eastward races”

    I meant westward, of course.

  41. @Steve Sorry if I caused any trouble – I know that technically I’m not in the TAFF constituency any more but I’ve always supported all the fan funds and it’s a hard habit to break :->

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