Election Report - 2011-2012 WMAU Committee Nominations and Voting
This is a report on the 2011–2012 Wikimedia Australia Committee nominations and voting.
This report outlines the nominations process from the commencement to the closing of nominations.
The nominations for committee were conducted prior to the Annual General Meeting using an online system. The 'electionbuddy' online nomination system opened at 12:00 am on September 18, 2011 sending an automatically generated email to email addresses put into the system from the WMAU database of members.
After the nominations began the first access to ascertain data on the progress of the nominations was on September 21 and subsequently on six more occasions; lastly on September 27 after the close of nominations. This access was to obtain the cumulative lists of information generated by electionbuddy.
The information obtained from accessing electionbuddy was developed into a system of reporting and in turn periodically sent to the members list. Two types of reports were sent out to members - (a) an interim report on the nomination results; followed up the next day by, (b) a report on the emergence of potential candidates. The second report was generated because potential candidates named in the first interim report consented to put their name forward for the ballot, thereby evolving from a 'successful nominee' to a 'potential candidate'. This procedure was assisted by a call in the first report for nominators to declare themselves to their nominee. Once this had taken place the nominee sent an email to the secretary, with two nominators in the Cc: address field , which was the final step in becoming a 'confirmed candidate'. Not all members who were successful nominees agreed to go forward as a candidate for the ballot.
The following comments on the electionbuddy system arise out of what became evident as the online nominations transpired:
1. The electionbuddy online system included a facility to once only, resend the initial email announcing the election, which contained the unique key to gain entry to the system. . The system placed all email addresses on the 'Voter List and Status' list and on this list provided a link to 'resend' an email. This facility was invoked twice throughout the nominations and so was a useful provision in the automatic system.
2. The electionbuddy software maintains the anonymity of nominators because while the database contains email addresses, at the point of a member entering the system to nominate a candidate, the system applies a random number and places the nominator in a mixed field of addresses, and extracts the nominator's address from the main list. The system advises that nominators entering the system to cast their nomination '...will be indicated below as soon as the 10th ballot has been cast in order to protect the anonymity...' of the nominators.
3. Auditing process. To undertake a satisfactory audit, the auditor needs to be able to view all cumulative lists that are generated. In the electionbuddy online nominations, the members' database of email addresses is represented on the 'Voter list and status', and can be viewed throughout the nominations up to the close of nominations. However, at the close of nominations the system triggers the automatic deletion of the 'voter list and status'. Therefore with the use of the electionbuddy system the audit needs to take place during the nominations. It may also be helpful to know the number of days the lists can be accessed after the nominations closing date.
4. There are four lists provided by the nominations software: the 'Voter List and Status' list; the Announcement details' list; the 'Election Results summary' list; and the 'Results details' list.
Of these lists the most useful is the 'Announcement details' list, containing information on the number of 'ballots cast' (individual members); and the 'announcement results' section, displaying results under headings 'office bearer' and 'ordinary member', and showing the overall number of nominations cast for a nominee.
The 'Election results summary' list is also useful in that it collates the nominees under each 'office bearer' title, and collates nominees for 'ordinary members' under that heading. However, a slight hiccup caused by the system arose when nominators misspelt a nominee's name and the system simply generated the misspelt name, so that there were two nominees' names that obviously were one in the same person; the difference merely being one letter of the name misspelt. The system does not recognise a misspelt name. This was easily overcome by simply adding together the nominations and allocating them to the correct name.
The 'Results details' list is supposed to provide a 'vote by vote breakdown', which could be useful; however it is completely inaccurate, and was so throughout the nominations process. The list only shows the nominees for the ordinary members, not the nominees for the office bearers; and it lists the ordinary member nominees under the headings 'President' and 'Vice President'. Several attempts were made through electionbuddy's fault reporting mechanism to make contact with Eventiq the company's support service, as well as follow-up emails. They were unable to resolve the problem during the election and subsequent to the election. Do we need better or different information from an online nominations system?
5. It was only in the last hour or so before the closing time that emails were sent to the secretary under the traditional system of nominations. Up to this point all nominations were conducted on the online system. However, some emails arrived after the 7pm closing time. Subsequent to 7pm all emails arriving after that time were set aside and did not form part of the nominations.
The nominations also called for communication with a member who had used his nickname in lieu of his real name, and this was sorted out with a series of emails, which resulted in his name being declared on the reports.
Overall the electionbuddy online nomination system ran smoothly throughout the nominations and the few dilemmas that did arise as the process unfolded were easily handled.
Auditor's report on nominations
Before voting started I reviewed electionbuddy and gave some thought to how it works for us. My conclusion is that it has some positive features, but should not be used in the way it was used this time. There is a lack of transparency, between the confidential nominating of persons in electionbuddy and the provision in our rules that imposes on the Secretary the need to determine a nominator and a seconder. There is also a smaller problem in making sure that the persons with access to electionbuddy are all members and therefore eligible to nominate. This was not the case this year but all the nominations were quite proper, even though some non-members, all former members added to entice them back, had access to electionbuddy. Non-members were advised by the Secretary to either join up or ignore the call for nominations. All people nominating were members.
I make the following recommendations for the nomination process:-
1. Use electionbuddy exactly as we used it this year, but much earlier and totally divorced in an official sense from the nomination process. Give at least two weeks after closing electionbuddy before nominations are closed. This allows potential candidates to think about the level of support they gathered on electionbuddy and their likely opposition candidates. This process would just be 'testing the waters', and not linked to the nomination process officially.
2. Follow a nomination process as currently outlined in the Rules. All nominations to be sent in writing with a nominator and a seconder. Candidates who were not nominated in electionbuddy would be free to stand. A nominations and seconding could be received separately from each other.
3. Put the Returning Officer (RO) as a position in the Rules and appoint for a term of a year. I suggest that the RO be appointed by the committee at the beginning of the financial year, which gives the person appointed time before the AGM to get into the position. It should be someone, not necessarily a member, who is not on the committee and not going to stand in the election that s/he will oversee.
4. Change the Rules so that nominations are sent to the Returning Officer.
10 October 2011
Voting and election
Auditor's report on voting and election
Memberdb has served us well for three elections, but it should not be used again.
First, it is confusing now we are not using memberdb for the membership database. We need voting in the database system we use for memberships or stand-alone voting software.
Second, when electing the two committee members, it does not follow the single transferable vote system (STV). It counts all the 1st and 2nd preferences for each candidate, giving them equal weight and then eliminates the lowest.
Third, it does not handle a tie between two or more candidates at the bottom of the count prior to a redistribution in a fashion that is used elsewhere in the single transferable voting system. If there is a tie, it should transfer the votes for the candidate with the least number of first preference votes, but it is actually more likely to do the opposite. In fact a tie is much more likely with this process of taking both 1st and 2nd preferences. STV is much less likely to give a tie. The part transfer of votes above quota after the first candidate is declared elected gives a fractional vote which lowers the possibility that two votes will then be equal.
As people may not understand STV. Let me give and example. The quota is [1/(n+1) + 1] where n is the number of positions. The quota in the recent election was 9. If a candidate has 10 1st preference votes, one vote is distributed to other candidates. The 10 votes are examined and the 2nd preferences counted. These are then weighted by 1/10, the 1 being the number over the quota. In the recent election this resulted in 0.4 going to one candidate and 0.5 going to another, along with 0.1 vote exhausted (that voter only gave a 1st preference).
This is linked to another problem that memberdb appears to have, like much open source software, no decent documentation even though the coding is OK. If there is a tie at any stage, we need to determine how it is handled. Maybe holding a further election at the AGM itself between all candidates who have not achieved quota by the time the tie is unresolvable. This report was written prior to the final count.
I make the following recommendations on the voting process:-
1. That the Returning Officer is empowered in the Rules to run all elections as outlined in recommendation 3. under my report on nominations.
2. That the new committee appoints a small group to investigate voting systems and to report by the end of January 2012 so any necessary Rule changes can be done in plenty of time before the 2012 AGM. A group of two or three, with a named convener, to make sure the work gets done, would be sufficient.
3. Whatever software is used, it should provide the Returning Officer with a list of how each vote was cast, but of course without naming the voter. This would allow the Returning Officer to do a full count by hand, and include alternative ways of handling a tie to see if they make a difference. If they did not, the problem of a tie would be solved. This feature was not initially possible in memberdb, although it is now available as detailed above. Before the Returning Officer could see who voted but not how, perhaps the opposite of what is needed.
10 October 2011
Election report announced at AGM
"I now come to the election of committee members where there were four candidates, Charles Gregory, Robert Myers, Jutta von Dincklage and Graham Pearce.
There were some difficulties with the voting system in memberdb. It was my understanding that the votes were counted in memberdb by the single transferable vote system (STV) and that this was the expectation of the Association. It does not count the votes in that way. It has two major weaknesses.
First, it gives exactly equal weight to the voters 1st and 2nd preferences. It then eliminates candidates and transfers their 3rd preference. This is not what we expect as some candidates get many more 1st preferences than 2nd preferences, and others get many more 2nd preferences than 1st preferences.
Second, if a tie occurs, it does not follow the usual process of eliminating the candidate who received fewer 1st preferences when these differ. In fact it seems to do exactly the opposite of this. I therefore sought ways to get at the raw voting data.
Our President only on Friday wrote some code to add into memberdb that made that data available. He then asked Andrew Garrett, our technical officer to install it. This was done only this morning, and I received the data about 12.00 noon. I counted the votes by the STV system. It turns out that STV gives the same result as memberdb gives, although by a very different root of eliminating candidates during the count. I am therefore able to give you a result with confidence.
I therefore declare that Charles Gregory and Graham Pearce are elected to serve as ordinary members of the committee. Congratulations."
Proposed rule amendments
Several proposed rule changes come from the Auditor's reports on the nominations, and the voting and election processes, which preceded the 2011 AGM and they are represented here for discussion by the membership. This section also includes any matters raised earlier in this report that may have an impact on the need for amendments to the Rules. Finally, some of the difficulties that arose from the software used by electionbuddy and memberdb, in combination with the current Rules and practices, gave rise for the need to examine some of the difficulties experienced by members wanting to vote, and they too are represented here for discussion by the members.
- Change the Rules to reflect that the Returning Officer be an appointed position for a term of one year to be appointed by the committee for commencement at the beginning of the financial year, to allow the appointee enough time before the AGM to be fully informed of the requirements of the role. The Returning Officer does not necessarily need to be a member; however s/he should not be on the committee and should provide an assurance that for the term of the appointment, s/he will not stand in the election that s/he will oversee.
- Change the Rules so that nominations are sent to the Returning Officer.
- To address any Rule changes in time for the 2012 AGM arising out of the results of investigations into voting systems, the committee should appoint a small group, possibly two or three, with a named convener, to undertake the investigations and report by the end of January 2012. A sub-committee should also be set up to draft proposed Rule changes in time for an AGM.
- A perceived problem with electionbuddy is that it allows a candidate to be nominated more than twice, thus allowing the nomination process to become a pseudo election.
- A lesser problem was that the name field was free form, allowing entry of any name rather than only names of members. Also nominators sometimes misspelt the name of the person they were nominating.
- During the 2011 nominations on electionbuddy, members were provided, via the members list, periodic updates on the status of the nominations. Another option is to allow the nominators to see the nominations during the process, and if used would preclude the need for periodic updates.*Electionbuddy, page 2
- In the 2011 nominations, members were able to submit only one nomination for each of the office bearer and ordinary member seats. This is an option and can be configured differently to allow a member to nominate, for instance, two presidents.*Electionbuddy, page 3
- A point to consider with the electionbuddy software is that until at least ten ballots have been lodged, it is not possible to review which of the email addresses has had a ballot cast against that address. As we put in many 'possible' members into the system, it was only after the tenth vote that we could be sure that unpaid members had not nominated. To resolve this dilemma, we need to consider either (a) close the membership before we launch the nomination round; or (b) be prepared to invalidate the electionbuddy results if at least ten nominators do not participate in the round. Also, we may need to be able to remove nominators if they have not paid their membership fees. For good reason, the electionbuddy software doesn't allow this change.
- For the election itself, we could use an external provider, so that we don't need to remove ourselves from the election machine. There are many open-source external providers that would comply with our rules. There are also closed-source external providers (e.g. electionbuddy). Therefore, consideration can be given to changing our Rules to allow for externally provided elections.
- Several Rule changes were discussed during the election and AGM, such as the need to affirm the nominations closing date;*nomination closing date the need to affirm the public listing of nominators which is currently a custom and practice;*nominators namesand, discussion on the automatic nominations of existing committee members.*automatic committee nominations
- Members have a real issue with the need for privacy, a concern yet to be dealt with regarding both the voting and the attendance at the AGM, and compounded by the current practice of real names being minuted.
This concern over privacy is considered to be the cause of preventing the participation of members at a general meeting; and therefore this needs to be addressed prior to the 2012 AGM.
We could examine a system of voting that secures the privacy of members, perhaps through the proxy voting system, such as through an examination of other kinds of proxy voting, not currently used, i.e. discretionary proxy votes, which could be introduced to provide protection to members who choose not to reveal their real names.
We could also examine how these practices are handled in the minuted record of the AGM so that privacy is maintained. A separate concern about the need for privacy arises for individuals attending the AGM as 'observer' status who in current practice have their real name minuted in the record of the meeting. We have never allowed IRC nicknames in the minutes; usual practice is that an observer who says something must use their real name for the purpose of recording the meeting, as the minutes are an official document and will be submitted to CAV. If we allow IRC attendance in future, we need to be scrupulous in requiring that people on IRC are referred to by their real name if they attend the AGM, and indicate that they are aware of this before the meeting commences.
On the Nomination process
- Use electionbuddy exactly as we used it this year, but much earlier and totally divorced in an official sense from the nomination process. Give at least two weeks after closing electionbuddy before nominations are closed. This allows potential candidates to think about the level of support they gathered on electionbuddy and their likely opposition candidates. This process would just be 'testing the waters', and not linked to the nomination process officially.
- Follow a nomination process as currently outlined in the Rules. All nominations to be sent in writing with a nominator and a seconder. Candidates who were not nominated in electionbuddy would be free to stand. A nominations and seconding could be received separately from each other.
- Put the Returning Officer (RO) as a position in the Rules and appoint for a term of a year. I suggest that the RO be appointed by the committee at the beginning of the financial year, which gives the person appointed time before the AGM to get into the position. It should be someone, not necessarily a member, who is not on the committee and not going to stand in the election that s/he will oversee.
- Change the Rules so that nominations are sent to the Returning Officer.
On the Voting process
- That the Returning Officer is empowered in the Rules to run all elections as outlined in recommendation 3. under my report on nominations.
- That the new committee appoints a small group to investigate voting systems and to report by the end of January 2012 so any necessary Rule changes can be done in plenty of time before the 2012 AGM. A group of two or three, with a named convener, to make sure the work gets done, would be sufficient.
- Whatever software is used, it should provide the Returning Officer with a list of how each vote was cast, but of course without naming the voter. This would allow the Returning Officer to do a full count by hand, and include alternative ways of handling a tie to see if they make a difference. If they did not, the problem of a tie would be solved. This feature was not initially possible in memberdb, although it is now available as detailed above. Before the Returning Officer could see who voted but not how, perhaps the opposite of what is needed.
In summary, this report would like to acknowledge with thanks, all the members who participated in the nominations (nominators and nominees who accepted nominations); the members who took part in the voting and election; and members who participated in the AGM. We would also like to specifically thank the two candidates Jutta von Dincklage and Robert Myers who contested seats in the election.
Contributors to this report are:
Brian Salter-Duke, Returning Officer
John Vandenberg, President
Anne Frazer, Secretary