It looks like I’ve opened up a can of worms. Last week I bemoaned about the low vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion in Lin­ux Aus­tralia (LA) elec­tions. I spent con­sid­er­able ener­gy at linux.conf.au (LCA) in Hobart pub­li­cis­ing the issue and can­vass­ing opin­ion from com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. This cul­mi­nat­ed in a light­ning talk titled ‘YOU PEOPLE SUCK’*, where I angri­ly chas­tised the com­mu­ni­ty for not par­tic­i­pat­ing in Lin­ux Aus­tralia. The fury was in jest, but the call to arms was not.

It seems now that the media has grabbed a hold of the mat­ter. Frankly, I’m glad that this issue has been brought to the fore. It has been a cat­a­lyst for con­tem­pla­tion and debate, which in my opin­ion is the hall­mark of an open com­mu­ni­ty. In my chats with var­i­ous peo­ple over the mat­ter, a few rea­sons crop up. These aren’t all nec­es­sar­i­ly true, but if they are believed by a sub­stan­tial sec­tion of our com­mu­ni­ty, they’d might as well be.

  • I don’t want to pay any­thing

Mem­ber­ship of Lin­ux Aus­tralia is free, as in beard! LA makes a tidy prof­it from LCA and spon­sor­ships.

  • I don’t know any­thing about LA
  • I don’t see how LA is rel­e­vant to me
  • I don’t see LA doing any­thing

These three are prob­a­bly the most dis­turb­ing. LA must strive to mar­ket itself bet­ter and to prove its worth in the com­mu­ni­ty. We’ve come a long way, but I do see some areas where we could improve. For instance, I’ve found over the years that many LCA atten­dees don’t under­stand the rela­tion­ship between LA and LCA. LCA is an LA event, and we should­n’t let any­one for­get it. Oth­er areas where we could improve include sup­port for local groups, par­tic­u­lar­ly LUGs. Var­i­ous projects have been in the works for a while now, but unfor­tu­nate­ly we’ve all been con­strained by Real Life. We should be bet­ter util­is­ing that famous open source scal­a­bil­i­ty to fix these prob­lems.

  • LA is too opaque
  • I’m not good enough to par­tic­i­pate

The sen­ti­ments above are com­plete anath­e­ma to a work­ing democ­ra­cy, and they should be dis­patched with accord­ing­ly. Yes it’s (gen­er­al­ly) true that the open source world is a mer­i­toc­ra­cy, but that should not dis­suade any casu­al per­son from hav­ing their input.

  • I don’t know any of the can­di­dates
  • I don’t have any spe­cif­ic objec­tions or pref­er­ences regard­ing the can­di­dates

The for­mer is a reflec­tion of our diverse and geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­trib­uted com­mu­ni­ty. The lat­ter might have some crossover with apa­thy, but gen­er­al­ly it’s an expres­sion that none of the can­di­dates are offen­sive enough to vote against (the black­list approach to vot­ing) or pref­er­en­tial enough to vote for. Enthu­si­asms can go both ways — an unpop­u­lar group of can­di­dates might be enough to mobilise an increased num­ber of votes against them.

  • I can’t make it to the AGM, and so can­not vote
  • I thought I was already a mem­ber after sub­scrib­ing to the mail­ing lists
  • I thought I was already a mem­ber after reg­is­ter­ing for linux.conf.au
  • The vot­ing form is dif­fi­cult to find
  • The vot­ing sys­tem is con­fus­ing

These come down to the design and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sur­round­ing our Web prop­er­ties. We use Mem­berDB as our online mem­ber­ships and vot­ing sys­tem, and hence there is no need to phys­i­cal­ly present your­self to vote (do it in your undies for all I care; just make sure the web­cam is off). Each mail­ing list has a Mail­man login, the Web site has anoth­er, and Mem­berDB has yet one more. LCA each year tends to have its own soft­ware infra­struc­ture entire­ly. The vot­ing form does indeed require much dig­ging to reach. There’s plen­ty of scope here for stream­lin­ing.

  • I did­n’t know the elec­tion was on
  • The vot­ing peri­od is too short
  • My reg­is­tra­tion was­n’t approved (in time)
  • I signed up dur­ing the vot­ing peri­od

The points above are most­ly to do with process and pro­ce­dure. Elec­tions need to be pub­li­cised bet­ter. One per­son said to me that they were expect­ing a big ‘VOTE’ but­ton on the front page of linux.org.au, link­ing direct­ly to the bal­lot form. Maybe anoth­er Coun­cil mem­ber can cor­rect me on this, but I gath­er it’s unof­fi­cial pol­i­cy not to accept new mem­ber­ships dur­ing the vot­ing process. Giv­en that Mem­berDB is designed to approx­i­mate the Aus­tralian elec­toral process, this should come as no sur­prise. How­ev­er, this is not stat­ed any­where in pub­lic. Also, since new mem­ber­ships must be man­u­al­ly con­firmed (a pre­cau­tion to stop spam and mul­ti­ple sign-ups) there will be an appre­cia­ble lag in the approvals process. Don’t expect the Coun­cil to have any time to accept new sign-ups dur­ing or close to LCA.

I am yet to hear the old ‘one vote does­n’t make a dif­fer­ence’ excuse, but just in case, you can read here on why this atti­tude is not help­ful.

I’d be inter­est­ed to hear if you have any oth­er rea­sons (and pro­posed solu­tions) for not reg­is­ter­ing with Lin­ux Aus­tralia and vot­ing in the elec­tions. I’d rec­om­mend that you take part in the dis­cus­sion on the lin­ux-aus mail­ing list, oth­er­wise you can post a com­ment here or con­tact me direct­ly if you’d pre­fer some pri­va­cy.

I won’t pre­tend to have all the answers, or pos­sess some mag­ic map of where we should be going. I’m just anoth­er com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber like any­one else, who is inter­est­ed in see­ing us move for­wards. Please con­sid­er assist­ing LA to address these prob­lems.

LotD: bluehackers.org

* yes, caps are manda­to­ry

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