Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Write-In Votes & Cultural Expectations

This post is substantially the same thing as what I just posted to the SMOFS e-mail list, but not everyone on SMOFS reads this LJ and vice versa, and I found it interesting enough to add here as well.

I am subscribed to another mailing list (some of you here are on it as well) where the subject of hoax Worldcon bids came up. In response to the semi-joking, "Be careful, you might win," I chipped in, "Not if you didn’t file." This led to a series of messages about how the Worldcon site selection process works and also led to me learning something I'd not known that explains some confusion that non-American fans may have had about write-ins on a Worldcon ballot.

To set this up, let me reiterate how the Worldcon system works.

1. The deadline for filing a bid is 180 days before the start of the administering Worldcon. If you file before this deadline, your bid appears on the ballot.

2. The deadline for being an _eligible bid_ is the close of voting. If you file before the close of voting but after the 180-day deadline, your bid is eligible to win, but doesn't appear on the ballot.

3. If you don't file bidding papers, your bid isn't eligible. Even if every single first-preference vote is cast for your bid, you can't win, because the administrator is instructed to eliminate all ineligible bids and take those ballots' next-highest eligible preferences if no eligible has a majority at the end of the first round.

Now this is fairly consistent with American (USA) voting practice. Every ballot I've ever cast includes the ability to vote for a write-in candidate. Usually, write-ins are jokes; however, now and then you get a serious one. I recall a serious write-in candidate for a legislative office in Northern California when I lived in Yuba City, for instance. (He didn't win.) I don't know the details, but I presume that the serious candidate filed the necessary paperwork, only after the ballot deadline.

I've been informed that in Canada (at least in many cases; nobody has completely exhaustive knowledge, of course, nor do I know ever nook and cranny of California state or American federal election law), there are no write-ins -- you are either on the ballot or you're not eligible at all, and voting for an ineligible candidate (that is, trying to write something in) can invalidate your ballot. The ballots themselves are apparently designed with no provisions for write-in candidates.

I don't know about UK or Australian ballots; some of you here might be able to answer the question of whether it's possible to write in a candidate on those ballots without invalidating the ballots.

It occurred to me that this could be the source of confusion between Americans and non-Americans. Americans take the concept of write-in votes for granted. WSFS rules and practices are, at the root, an outgrowth of American traditional practice; indeed, our very governance is rooted in the New England Town Meeting form of government. The WSFS Business Meeting would object (and has objected) to anything that removes the ability for voters to cast write-in votes; we do, however, include rules that administratively prevent non-serious write-in bids from winning.

Non-Americans, not having the write-in electoral concept as a basic part of political life, have no obvious way of knowing that there's a distinction between eligible and ineligible write-ins. Of course, many Americans probably don't understand this either, but at least American electoral practice does include the write-in concept, so Americans are more likely to recognize it when they see a WSFS ballot.

I'm wondering if this is similar to the now-pretty-well-known difference between the US and UK meanings of "to table" -- in case there's anyone here who hasn't heard it before, "to table" has opposite meanings in American and British English, which apparently caused some confusion in WWII planning sessions between American and British commands. It's a culture difference that's somewhat subtle.
Tags: worldcon, wsfs
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