Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

On Popular Ratification

I wrote a long reply to this comment on a previous entry and then LJ ate it, so I decided to write it as a main entry instead.

Impartial WSFS Business Meeting Chairman hat off. I am a co-author of the proposal, will be recusing myself when it comes up because I want to speak to the motion, and cannot be considered unbiased.

Popular Ratification was never intended as a streamlining proposal. It was intended to give the 98% of the members (including most of the attending members) who are unable to attend the Business Meeting a voice in the governance of their own club.

While as anyone who reads my LJ probably knows, I'll explain how WSFS works until I'm blue in the face and your ears start to bleed, I'm not as stupid or blind as some people seem to think. I'm perfectly aware that the investment in money and time to be an attending member of two consecutive Worldcons and to spend around nine programming hours over five days debating WSFS rules is not something many people are willing to do.

WSFS Government is a "Town Meeting," but it's not an easy process, particularly given that in practice, people who only turn up once or twice are unlikely to get any traction with their proposals. Attending multiple years and learning the quirks of the process and getting to know individual opinion-leaders is a better way to get things done, but it's time-consuming and expensive, and most people have better things to do. Only a few people are crazy stupid dedicated enough to do it as one of the primary foci of their hobby. I've been to every Worldcon since 1989 plus 1984 before that, and I've attended every single WSFS Business Meeting, even the one at my first ever SF convention, the 1984 Worldcon. (My sole contribution: moving the adjournment of the Preliminary Business Meeting.)

The original proposal was to submit anything that passed a WSFS Business Meeting to a ballot of all of the voting members (supporting and attending) of the follow year's Worldcon. However, for a number of reasons, including a fear that action taken hastily could not be revised during the second year's debate (this happens regularly and is legal as long as it doesn't increase the scope of change), it became clear that removing the second year's debate wasn't going to fly. Sensible politicians are prepared to compromise in order to get at least some of what they want, and neither Warren Buff nor I (the co-authors of the proposal) were prepared to dig in our heels against this and lose the vote in London. We agreed, and the meeting ultimately passed, what amounts to a trial of the idea if it can get through ratification this year: the existing two-year process remains, but anything that gets past the second BM is submitted to the voting members of the following Worldcon for final ratification. The entire Popular Ratification process would need to be re-ratified one more time in a few years by the in-person Business Meeting before becoming permanent. (That's a "sunset clause" included to alleviate fears that the general membership would reject every change of any sort or other unexpected behavior.)

Popular Ratification is analogous to one of the methods used (as I understand it) to amend some US states' constitutions. In those states, any constitutional amendment must be passed at two consecutive legislatures (with an election of representatives intervening), and then submitted to the voters of that state for ratification. California's system (with which I'm most familiar) is more like what I originally proposed: the legislature (both houses) pass a proposal and the people ratify it.

Although every attending member can come to the Business Meeting, typically less than 2% do so. The biggest turnout I ever saw was 10% in 1994 in Winnipeg, where there were multiple hot-button non-overlapping issues. By sheer luck, we happened to be in a room big enough to hold the ~350 people who turned up. (That was a function of the room-size quanta in the Winnipeg Convention Centre.) I think we have some chance of breaking the absolute attendance record; however, I don't know what the turnouts were in the 1960 when there was only one track of programming and site selection took place in person at the Business Meeting.

There's an ongoing complaint that a small self-selected group of SMOFS control the entire process. There's enough truth in this to sting if you're someone who believes in democracy as I still do. After all, we've seen this year what a determined small minority can do when it concentrates its numbers on a small enough point. I still believe that as long as we continue to use a Town Meeting form, where every member represents only him/herself, that there's still value in in-person debate and discussion for the origination of business. However, I also wanted to let every member have some skin in the game, so they could no longer say that they were not consulted over any changes in the rules of the World Science Fiction Society of which they were members.

Note, by the way, that because of when amendments take effect, Popular Ratification would first affect anything getting first passage in 2016 in Kansas City. Anything that gets first passage in Spokane would be up for final ratification in KC as usual. Anything that passes for the first time in Kansas City would be sent to the 2017 Worldcon, and anything initially ratified there would be submitted to the 2018 Worldcon for final ratification by the voters.

We'll see if the members of this year's Business Meeting are prepared to ratify a proposal that would put the final say in the ratification of constitutional amendments in the hands of a majority of the entire membership who exercise their voting rights.
Tags: business meeting, popular ratification, worldcon, wsfs

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