[python-committers] Proposal on how to vote (was: An alternative governance model)

Alex Martelli aleax at google.com
Wed Jul 18 20:28:30 EDT 2018

There are plenty of precedents for mandatory voting, but the enforcement
mechanisms (if any) appear not to be applicable to our case. Note the "if
any": several countries declare voting a citizen's duty (in their
Constitution or otherwise) but don't actually enforce this duty in any way.
For example, that's the case in the United States: if you apply for
naturalization you will be quizzed on many things, including "what are the
duties of a citizen", and one of the latter is "participate in the
democratic process" which includes voting -- but if you don't, no
enforcement action is taken against you. In contrast, if you get a jury
summons (jury duty being another of those citizen duties) and repeatedly
fail to show up, you may end up in jail -- now THAT is enforcement of the
duty (and no Python community organism has, nor should have, such power of

In Italy, where voting is declared to be a duty in the Constitution, at the
start of the Republic you'd get (until next election) a stamp of "non ha
votato" ("did not vote") in your publicly accessible judiciary record (it
would come up in any background search -- and, in a country where firing
employees was notoriously hard, some opined that such a flaw might be
grounds for dismissal if the employer so wished, although I've never heard
of it happening). That was abolished 25 years ago, in part because it was
randomly/capriciously enforced (many judicial districts were too
otherwise-busy to go through voting records and apply/remove the stamp!-).
So, now, Italy is in the vast camp of countries declaring voting a duty
(Italy's constitution was not changed on this subject) but not enforcing
the "duty" at all (indeed, failing to show up to vote is now often
advocated by adversaries of referendums, which have a 50% minimum
participation threshold to be valid and may well be easier to defeat by
getting people to just not show up -- since many others won't anyway for
other reasons -- than by getting them to vote against).

Since I originally brought up a parallel between "which BDFL" voting, and a
Papal conclave, I would be remiss to fail to mention that since 1274 the
Cardinals are locked up "with a key" ("cum clave") until a Pope does get
elected -- usually a good-enough incentive to vote (though once the
citizens of the town where the conclave was held had to decide after a few
failed votes to only send in bread and water -- and later, said citizens
removed the roof of the palace where the Cardinals were locked up, hoping
that rain may speed up the proceedings). Colorful, but, again, not really
applicable in our case.

What's left? The "public naming and shaming" Italy used until a quarter
century ago might work -- just make a little site listing the committers
who, while having a right to vote, haven't voted (yet). A VERY long voting
period might also help -- amendments to the US Constitution originally had
unlimited times for ratification (the 27th amendment, originally the 2nd
one proposed in 1789, was ratified 202 years after proposal), though these
days 7 years is a more customary time limit for ratification. Not sure if
these are good ideas.

Another possibility is to avoid having separate thresholds for
participation and approval (US constitution amendments work that way --
with the specifics being a threshold only for approval out of all States,
not how many States have voted for or against). I.e, if we decide 2/3 is
OK, a proposal might be approved if 2/3 of *eligible* voters have voted for
it -- no matter how many of the remaining 1/3 have voted against, or not
(yet?) voted at all (since, if 100% of eligible voters could be bothered to
vote, once the proposal gets 2/3 of the votes in favor, it does not matter
whether the remaining 1/3 vote against, abstain, or whatever). This is not
mutually exclusive with other ideas (of which, out of what I've mentioned,
the viable ones -- though not necessarily wise! -- would be "public naming"
of non-voters, and VERY long voting periods).

Lastly, I suspect two votes should be separated: (1) what model we adopt
(BDFL, ruling triumvirate, whatever); (2) the model having been chosen, WHO
is going to serve (as BDFL, as triumvirate member, and so on)...


On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 3:46 PM Donald Stufft <donald at stufft.io> wrote:

> > On Jul 18, 2018, at 6:18 PM, Łukasz Langa <lukasz at langa.pl> wrote:
> >
> >
> >> On Jul 18, 2018, at 4:56 PM, Brett Cannon <brett at python.org> wrote:
> >>
> >> While I am totally fine with a super-majority of votes for something to
> be accepted, I don't think the minimum participation requirement will work.
> If people simply choose not to vote then they choose not to (we have no way
> to really compel people to vote).
> >
> > It could be easily added to the list of things expected from a core
> contributor. It's not like this is a laborious chore, neither is it
> happening often. There are countries where voting is mandatory.
> Given that we don’t have a lot of levers in our tool chest to compel
> voting, what would you propose we do if we get only a 35% participation
> rate? We can’t drag people to the polls, the most we can really do is
> either keep running elections and hope you hit whatever threshold you
> decide on, or you start removing people who can vote until you’ve removed
> enough people that the people who are participating now make up whatever
> your target participation rate is.
> The first choice there strikes me as unrealistic. Hope is not a strategy,
> and I fail to see why repeatedly offering the same vote multiple times is
> likely to increase the participation rate. In fact, I think it’s likely to
> decease it as people get tired of having to do it over again and just start
> giving up and viewing it as noise.
> The second choice seems… dishonest to me? You’re not really increasing the
> participation of the vote, you’re just juicing the numbers to make the
> participation rate higher. It’s selectively defining who is eligible to
> vote to make the numbers look better.
> Is there another option I’m missing to compel people to vote?
> >
> > Taking a step back, there are two reasons I stress the importance of
> (almost) everybody voicing their support:
> > - this makes the decision authoritative ("the committers have spoken”);
> I think this is largely a non-issue. In the US we do not have mandatory
> elections, and I don’t see very many people challenging the authority of
> said elections due to the large percentage of non-voters. The most I
> generally see if people scolding those who don’t vote.
> > - this ensures that we haven't omitted somebody due to poor timing ("I
> was on a sabbatical and couldn't vote”).
> Unless you require 100% voting participation, it doesn’t ensure this, it
> just makes it less likely. If you target 90%, then a full 10% of the people
> could have been excluded due to poor timing.
> I don’t think it’s possible to fully eliminate this risk, but I think the
> best possible way of handling it is to advertise the vote well in advance,
> and allow the vote itself to take place over a reasonable amount of time.
> The more advance notice, and the larger the window of time is to actually
> vote in, the less likely timing becomes an issue. Just to pluck some random
> times out of the air, if you advertise the voting for 3 months and allow
> voting to happen any time in a months time, that gives people a full 4
> months they will have to be completely unavailable to have no idea the
> voting is happening, and be unable to access a computer for a handful of
> minutes to actually do the vote at all in a month.
> >
> > If you feel like this is unrealistic because most of our committers
> aren't currently active, I hear you. But what I like even less is claiming
> that "we, the core team" made a decision when, say, just 35% of us voted.
> In such case it would be easier for those of us who disagree to claim the
> decision doesn't really represent the views of the greater core team.
> >
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