Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Lowering Worldcon Voting Cost, Part 2

A couple of days ago, I posted my proposal to Decouple Voting Costs from Attending Membership Costs at Worldcon. There is a related proposal -- elements of which I admit to having accidentally conflated in the ensuing discussion -- that I think would also help increase participation in the Worldcon and would reduce the number of would-be participants who are balking at the price.

Currently, in order to vote on Worldcon site selection, you must be at least a supporting member of the current Worldcon and you must pay the Advance Supporting Membership (Voting) Fee when you cast your ballot. The ASM makes you a supporting member of the winning bid, whatever bid wins.

Now, if you are like me and vote every year, you're only paying the current ASM for the Worldcon two years hence. But if you're new to the process, the cost to vote in site selection is effectively double the ASM, because you're forced to buy a membership in the current Worldcon in order to vote, but then you have to pay again for the voting itself. This looks like we're imposing a penalty on first-time members just to get involved, and requiring them to join a convention in which they have no interest, usually in a Place Far Away.

There are good reasons for requiring people to buy a membership to the current Worldcon in order to vote on the Hugo Awards, and certainly in order to participate in the Business Meeting. You have to be a member of the club and have paid its dues in order to vote. But there's also a good reason to require people to pay the ASM in order to cast a site selection ballot: that's a supporting membership in the future Worldcon, and by paying the ASM, you're committing to be a member of that convention regardless of where it is held. I think that's a good thing.

Making people pay both fees is somewhat unfair. It's an unfairness that is lost upon the people who join every year, because those people haven't been affected by it since they "got up on the horse," which for some of us -- like me -- was more than twenty years ago, when the effective cost in real terms was much less. (My analysis of the difference between the 1990 and 2009 Worldcons shows that it's 25% more expensive in real, inflation-adjusted terms to get involved in the process of site selection for a first-timer than it was nineteen years ago.)

This first-time cost is nearly $100, and is a huge disincentive to would-be first-time voters. People promoting a future Worldcon bid are obliged to tell people who aren't currently Worldcon members, "You need to pay two separate fees to vote, neither of which is refundable, and you still may not get the site you want." Not surprisingly, you don't see very many site selection ballots with an attached supporting membership for the current Worldcon, although we always allow for the possibility.

The current must-pay-both system is, I think, a reflection of how Worldcon sites were once selected, which was by a show of hands at the previous year's WSFS Business Meeting. (This was phased out in favor of a ballot-only system in steps during the late 1960/early 1970s, but I do not know the precise order of events, I'm afraid.) I think that when it was decided by the previous BM, you did not have to put up money for the following year's convention (unless you wanted to after it was selected).

The current double-payment system is a historical artifact that drives away interested voters unnecessarily. I propose that we allow anyone to cast a site selection ballot by paying the ASM regardless of current-year membership status. For instance, at this past Worldcon, you could have voted on the site of the 2011 Worldcon even if you were not a member of Anticipation. This would have cut the effective start-up cost in half. $45 is still not chicken feed, but it's a whole lot better than about $100.

Yes, you'd have to deal with handling ballots from people who aren't members of the current Worldcon. I think that's manageable. I admit that it would add some complexity, because right now it's pretty easy to validate voter eligibility and prevent duplicate voting. When the potential electorate expands to the entire World, that task is more difficult.

Financial impact on current Worldcon: The current Worldcon would lose a small amount of revenue -- I'd be astonished if it were more than $5000, and it's probably much less, which is about 0.5% of a typical modern Worldcon's revenue -- from site selection ballots from non-members that don't have attached supporting memberships. Mind you, that's only from the ballots that would have come in had such a change not been made, not the (probably higher) number of ballots that I expect would arrive if we made such a change. The effect of this change is probably quite minor.

Impact on Future Worldcon: Each future Worldcon would probably have more up-front money due to a larger number of ballots being cast on the site selection election. I think the amount of additional initial revenue would far exceed the small amount forgone by not collecting supporting memberships for the selection they would conduct two years later. Up-front money is usually much more valuable than money received at the end of a Worldcon's lifetime. The effect of this change is small, but positive.

Impact on First Two Worldcons After Ratification: The first two Worldcons that would administer elections after the ratification of this proposal would suffer the minor revenue loss without the corresponding up-front revenue boost, on account of having been selected under the earlier more restrictive rules. The total impact of this change is difficult to assess.

It is likely that some people will say this will allow "packing" the ballot box. If that means a lot more additional people will actually vote, I don't think that's ballot-box stuffing; it's getting more people involved. If it means actual voter fraud -- voting the cemetery and phone book and that sort of thing -- well, I can't guarantee anything, but the chances seem low. They aren't zero, because we are pretty sure there was at least one attempt to do something similar for a Hugo Award campaign years ago. I do think that the positive benefits of not driving away people who are legitimately interested in voting outweigh the theoretical dangers of someone voting the phone book. Besides, I trust administrators to spot a pattern of improper voting.

Would this be a controversial change? Yes, but I would point out that it doesn't hurt the existing join-every-year members at all. They still can cast their own votes every year, just as they have been doing. But it lowers the entry barrier and makes it easier for someone to join for the first time during the excitement of a bid campaign. Some of those people will end up staying for the long run, like I did. Right now, I think we're causing people to balk at the start-up cost who are never coming back, and I'd like to recapture them into the Worldcon fold.
Tags: site selection, worldcon

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