The WSFS Mark Protection Committee elections

As mentioned previously, I got elected earlier this month to the World Science Fiction Society’s Mark Protection Committee, which works to preserve the intellectual property of the terms WSFS, Hugo, Lodestar, etc. It’s a three year term, with three people elected every year by those who turn up to the Business Meeting (and a number of other members appointed in various ways).

This was actually my second attempt; I had put my name forward at the previous election in December 2021, when unusually six members were elected due to the peculiar circumstances of 2020. I was not elected, probably due to not being at the meeting itself (which made a number of other bad decisions). I did find this a bit surprising; I’m not exactly invisible in these discussions, and a number of people told me that they had voted for me. But we move on, and I got in this time.

I had not realised that the MPC is elected in the same way as Hugo final ballot places are determined. A separate single-seat STV election is held for each seat, with candidates elected in previous rounds excluded and their votes redistributed to the next preference. This is a pretty crazy way to run a multi-seat election. For the Hugo ballot, we want to ascertain the collective will of the majority at every stage, and don’t particularly care about representing minority views. But applied to a committee election, you are basically allowing a majority of voters to determine every one of the seats, and excluding minority views entirely. The result will represent the strongest faction and nobody else.

All public elections which use the Single Transferable Vote to elect more than one candidate (both parts of Ireland, Malta, most of Australia for Senate and state assembly elections, municipal elections in Scotland, New Zealand and some US cities) instead establish a quota of votes that a candidate must exceed to get elected. If you get more votes than the quota, the surplus is redistributed to the next available preferences. It seems to me to get the best balance possible between voter impact on the result, proportionality of outcome between different political groups, and encouraging accountability from elected representatives.

I also had not realised that the MPC election results are published. It turns out that in 2021, I had the equal third highest number of first preferences among nine candidates, but failed to get elected, effectively coming eighth.

They never liked me!

If the election had been a standard multi-member STV election, my 9 first preferences would have taken me to just below the quota (which would have been 10 or 9.3 or 9.29 or 9.286, depending on the precise system) and I would probably have picked up a transfer from somewhere and got in. It’s not just about me: the candidate with the second highest number of first preferences came fourth, and would not have been elected in a normal three-seat year.

WSFS moves slowly, so I don’t expect that this ridiculous situation will be fixed any time soon. But it has implications if WSFS were ever to move to a more manageable system of electing a standing Council of some kind, with executive powers, rather than the archaic Business Meeting, as has been proposed by Kevin Standlee. There would definitely need to be provisions for such a committee to have broad representation engineered into it, and the current system used for the Hugo final ballot and the MPC will not deliver that.