March 7th, 2018

Gavel of WSFS

WSFS: Amending Constitutional Amendments Pending Ratification

In light of an announcement that certain people want to try and change the proposed name of the (as yet nameless) WSFS Award for Best Young Adult Book when the name (given initial passage last year and up for ratification this year), I have in mind proposing a rule change to make it harder (not impossible) to amend constitutional changes that are up for ratification.

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While the simple version of constitutional amendment is "pass one year, ratify the next," it is complicated by the fact that it's possible to only partially ratify an amendment. Here's the actual rule:
Section 6.6: Amendment. The WSFS Constitution may be amended by a motion passed by a simple majority at any Business Meeting but only to the extent that such motion is ratified by a simple majority at the Business Meeting of the subsequent Worldcon.

What this means is that when a constitutional amendment is up for ratification, it is possible to amend (change) it so that it is reduced in scope, but not increased. Anything that gets you "closer" to the original text before the original constitutional amendment passed is within the original scope. This is easy to determine in some cases, but quite difficult in others.

Now it would simplify matters considerably if we simply required that the second year's vote be an up/down vote on whatever was passed on from the previous year, with no changes allowed. However, because of the somewhat freeform nature of WSFS governance, we've been known to pass things in haste and then realize in the intervening year that what what passed wasn't really what people intended. Amendments at ratification that do not increase the scope of change can get you out of trouble.

On the other hand, you can get situations where people end up doing mischief, not necessarily from nefarious motives. For example, an amendment to the proposed ratification of naming the YA Award "Lodestar" that strikes out "Lodestar" and inserts "[anything other than Lodestar]" is in my opinion (which I stated officially from the Chair last year) an increase in scope. So if such a change passed, and then the amended proposal passed, it would (in effect) reject the ratification of the original proposal and give first passage to a new constitutional amendment, which would then have to be passed on to the following year's Worldcon, and the YA Award would remain nameless for another year. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of opinion, but it would surely be controversial.

So is there a way to make it harder to introduce amendments that increase the scope of change while retaining the ability to make changes that are within scope and are not controversial? I think there is. It doesn't even take a constitutional amendment (which eliminating the "only to the extent" wording in the existing Constitution would would require). Instead, we make it a bit more difficult to propose changes to amendments awaiting ratification by modifying the Standing Rules.

You might want to get a copy of the Standing Rules from the WSFS Rules site before this next part.

What I suggest is a new Standing Rule applicable to amendments to the motion to Ratify a Constitutional Amendment, probably just before existing rule 5.4, thus:

Rule 5.X: Amend; Amending Ratification of Constitutional Amendments. The motion to amend a motion to Ratify a Constitutional Amendment is not allowed.

"Wait a minute," you may be thinking, "Doesn't that prohibit such amendments entirely?" Well, not quite. That's because it's a standing rule, not a constitutional prohibition, and in general standing rules (technically a "special rule of order" as defined by Robert's Rules of Order) can be suspended by the motion to Suspend the Rules, which generally requires a 2/3 vote.

The net effect of a relatively simple change would be that in order to amend a constitutional amendment awaiting ratification, you would first have to Suspend the Rules (2/3 vote) to allow the introduction of the amendment in the first place. Now allowing its introduction doesn't mean it would pass, and it still might end up increasing the scope of the pending ratification, but it would mean that the meeting is willing to consider it, at least. But if you can't convince 2/3 of the members that they should consider the change, it doesn't even get debated.

The form of trying to get a change discussed would be thus: "I move to Suspend the Rules to allow the introduction of an amendment to [pending ratification] to [statement of actual amendment]." This motion would then be put, and if 2/3 of the members vote in favor, the amendment would be on the floor. Passing Suspend the Rules doesn't pass the underlying proposal; it just allows its introduction as an amendment to the ratification.

I expect that minor and obvious uncontroversial changes that do not increase a proposal's scope would actually be adopted by unanimous consent. It's a bit surprising given how disputatious WSFS Business Meeting attendees are, but quite a few unanimous-consent proposals for non-controversial things go through, now that people understand what it means.

This standing-rule-based change permits the meeting to entertain ratification changes, but only if a super-majority are willing to do so. It makes it more difficult (not impossible) for scope-changing amendments to be introduced, while allowing the second Business Meeting some ability to still make changes.

If there is sufficient support for this proposal, I will submit this standing rule change to this year's WSFS Business Meeting. I'm not on the head table this year (or next) and thus don't have to keep stepping over substantive discussions this year.