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About Internet Society 11 November 2019

Heads Up! A Slight Change to the Internet Society Election Process

Walid Al-Saqaf
By Walid Al-SaqafMember, Internet Society Board of Trustees

I’m writing to the Internet Society community today with a notice that there is a key change to the Procedures for Selecting Trustees starting this year.  This change reduces the duration of voting period from 28 to 14 days in the Internet Society Board of Trustees elections through which Chapters and Organization Members get to elect candidates to the Board.

If you read the 2019-2020 Elections Timetable carefully, you may notice that the Candidates Forum and the voting period are no longer done in parallel. As the below timeline shows, the 28-day period that used to be allocated for voting and the Candidates Forum is now split into two distinct sequential stages: the first 14 days is for the Candidates Forum and the second 14 days is for voting.

This decision was made for two reasons.

The first is to allow candidates to be heard fully before votes are cast. Upon examining the activity log of the last elections, we realized that some voters cast their ballots before the candidates had a chance to interact with the community. Voting before hearing what candidates have to say in the Candidates Forum is detrimental to the elections process as it encourages what one can call ‘electoral tribalism’ since voters base their decisions on name recognition or popularity rather than on the merits and ideas of the candidates.

Put yourself in the shoes of a new candidate with great ideas on how to improve the work of the Internet Society. You are not known by many in the community, but have a lot of useful ideas that you wish to share to try to persuade voters to vote for you. In the past, voting would be open immediately at the start of the Candidates Forum, hence making whatever you say meaningless for those who are already committed to vote for their ‘favorite’ candidate. This may cause you to be frustrated since voters may not hear you out because they have already made up their minds. It may likewise make those more ‘popular’ candidates less keen to engage in the discussion because they expect to have voters cast their ballots already at the start of the voting period without the need to hear any candidate.

After this key change is made, this will no longer be possible. Candidates will have their say first and voters can hear them out and weigh their options if they are keen on voting for those with the better ideas and clearer vision. They could also consider looking into the candidates’ past track records of course, but voters cannot cast a ballot until all the candidates have spoken and answered all queries of the community. In other words, this makes responding and interacting with the community of greater importance and value for candidates, forcing them to be more upfront and engaging and less laid back since no votes will be cast until the Candidates Forum is over.

This change will probably not deter some voters from voting for candidates they had in mind before, but it gives those voters an opportunity to reflect and rethink their choices, because they gave all candidates the chance to argue for their positions and ideas.

As the Chair of the Elections Committee at the time, I felt it was necessary to make this change to ensure that all candidates, especially new and relatively unknown ones, are treated fairly and get the chance to be heard. It is not healthy in a democratic process to prejudge candidates before listening to their ideas and responses to questions posed by the Committee or the community through the Candidates Forum. Candidates deserve to be heard and their competing ideas assessed by voters well before the first vote is cast. Doing so promotes greater awareness and equips voters with all the information they need to make informed decisions.

The second reason is based on our conclusion from the statistics of the voting record of the last elections that the period of voting was apparently too long and not efficiently utilized. We found out that the majority of the voters either voted immediately after they were invited, waited until the last day before voting, or cast their ballot only after they got a reminder as the below graphs show.

2018-2019 Chapter election:

2018-2019 Organization Member election:

The empirical data above clearly showed that the 28-day period was not necessary since the majority of votes took place in a few days. While a long period of voting or early voting can be justifiable in paper elections to avoid long lines or to give voters the ability to vote on weekends without having to miss work or school, in an online voting environment, this is not needed. In fact, part of the month-long period could be more effectively used exclusively to hear from and interact with candidates.

Yes, we are halving the voting period from 28 to 14 days. But by doing so, we are also providing candidates with 14 days exclusively to engage with the community, mainly through the Candidates Forum, and to offer an opportunity to create a much more informed electorate.

I thought I’d just let you know how we came to this decision and look forward to having a productive and democratic elections process this time around.

If you are an eligible voter, make sure you mark your calendar and note this important change.

Walid Al-Saqaf
Chair of the Internet Society’s 2018-2019 Elections Committee

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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