Are votes the right kind of tool for substantial statements of the GA?

Thinking a bit more about some of the recent discussions on the GA mailing list, I arrive at the conclusion that a considerable part of the problems we are experiencing is caused by the use of an inappropriate tool: Votes like we are using them ri…

Thinking a bit more about some of the recent discussions on the GA mailing list, I arrive at the conclusion that a considerable part of the problems we are experiencing is caused by the use of an inappropriate tool: Votes like we are using them right now are _not_ the tool we _should_ be using in order to make declarations of the intent of the members of the GA.

More precisely, a vote is an instrument by which some well-defined body comes up with a collective decision. The accountability for the outcome of the vote is collective; individual members are not held accountable for their individual votes. For this reason, votes are held in secret. In particular, a vote deliberately withholds a considerable amount of information from the public.

It is also bad to arbitrarily add new members to the voting registry for a particular vote: Suddenly, the body making the decision is no longer well-defined; the result of the vote (“body x says y”) itself becomes ill-defined as a consequence.

Such votes are an appropriate tool when the GA actually acts as a homogeneous body, that is, when it elects a chairman or representatives to task forces, or when it votes on its internal procedures: Votes are appropriate whenever the question at hand is how the GA as a group of individuals can best organize its activities.

Votes are, however, not appropriate when GA statements are made on substance. There are several reasons for this.

Most importantly, the GA is _not_ acting as a homogeneous body when it comes to substantial topics: We are a mix of constituency members and interested individuals, of stakeholders and slashdotters. We may even want to take into account outside support for substantial statements (Jamie tried this; similarly, it may be interesting to shop for support for a uniform deletions policy or certain transfer policies at nsihorrorstories.com). What the resolutions discussed here are about is not a _decision_ within a homogeneous body, but a demonstration of support (and, possibly, objection!) from those who want to demonstrate that support (or objection).

For such a demonstration, the deliberate loss of information which is connected with the current voting mechanism is not desirable: An explicit list of supporters of a resolution makes a lot more sense than the apples-and-oranges statement that “the DNSO’s GA has voted for xyz”. In particular, it would include information on what members of different constituencies think – remember, the constituencies are what ultimately matters in the DNSO’s process. In fact, I’d even go a step further than just making the voting process transparent: Let’s get rid of the voting registry and the complex apparatus we are using altogether, as far as substantive resolutions are concerned (as opposed to questions of the internal organization of the GA).

So, here’s my suggestion for how to deal with future resolutions: Just do a simple, open poll via e-mail. Spread the call for signatories widely. Include the members of the GA voting registry with it. Just collect signatures.

To summarize, the process suggested has the following benefits over the current approach:

  • The resulting statement is well-defined.
  • The process is transparent and can be implemented with considerably less effort than the voting process; in particular, the safeguards necessary to ensure the integrity of a secret vote are not needed here.
  • The very concept of capture does not make any sense, since it is reasonably transparent who does and says what. In particular, there is no voting registry to be stuffed.

Comments?