225: Drupal Association Director at Large 2016 Election Commentary

Thanks to everyone who put yourselves out there and ran in this election and congratulations to our newest board member, Shyamala Rajaram! I’m certain you will use this power for good :-)

I sat down with Michael “Schnitzel” Schmid in my office in Cologne to talk about the 2016 election for a Director at Large Drupal Association Board position. Schnitzel was a candidate and the election had just concluded when we spoke.

As I did last year, I once again found a couple of aspects of the election challenging:

  • There were a lot of candidates. I wasn’t up to properly informing myself, much less interacting in a meaningful way, with 22 candidates. I cast six votes, ranking people I felt know well enough want them to represent me on the DA Board.
  • I suspected I didn’t really understand the nuances of Instant Runoff Voting (hereafter: “IRV”).

Our conversation (audio and video) covers three main areas:

  • From 1:50 to 13:06 in the video (3:07 to 14:23 in the audio version) we get clear on what IRV is and how it works.
  • From 13:07 to ca. 25:00 (14:24 to ca. 26:17 in the audio version) in the video we go through the 2016 DA Board election round for round. Following the process in action improved my understanding of it and gave me more insights into things like the importance and value of my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and later votes in and IRV election.
  • From roughly 22:00 to the end in the video (roughly 23:17 to the end in the audio version), armed with new insights, I think that understanding the system better should help me vote “better” in future IRV elections. However, being geeks, we can’t resist bike shedding! Schnitzel and I also talk about the specifics of how the DA elections have been set up and we propose a few potential improvements to DA/IRV elections.

Our conversation - 33 min.

Below, you'll find excerpts from the transcription of our conversation and some of our questions and other commentary.

Congratulations, Shyamala!

jam: Congratulations Shyamala Rajaram on winning the election. I’m really, really looking forward to finding out more about you and congratulations, and I know that you've got a lot of great ideas. I was personally extremely impressed by India and the Indian Drupal community when I was in DrupalCon Mumbai and if the Indian community is anything to go by, I think that we’re in for having a great board member. So, congratulations!

Instant Runoff Voting - 1:50 to 13:06 in video

jam: I, however, was one of many people who find the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system confusing and I had a bunch of questions and a lot of people were asking you questions during the election because you were promoting yourself as a candidate and promoting the election itself. What kind of questions were people asking you that essentially were way off the mark?

"Do I have to vote for everybody?"

Schnitzel: So, one of the biggest questions that I got is that when people went to the voting and they saw the voting ballot, the biggest question is, “Do I have to go to him for everybody?”

jam: So, we had 22 candidates running and if you voted, you’ll know that you hit a ballot which allowed you to put 22 candidates in an order of one to 22.

Schnitzel: Correct.

jam: So, do I have to vote for everybody? In Drupal, in our system, no.

Schnitzel: You don’t have to, no.

jam: In the way that we’ve implemented it, you don’t have to vote for everyone, but your later votes up until a certain point, can have an effect.

"Can I vote for you 22 times?"

jam: People also asked you if they could vote for you 22 times.

Schnitzel: Yes, I had people coming to me and say like, “So, I got 22 votes. How do I give you all of it?” The answer is no.

jam: So, I can’t vote for you 22 times.

Schnitzel: No.

What are later votes good for?

jam: My later votes can have an effect. Now, this was a really important piece for me because of the 22 candidates, I only cast six votes because my feeling was, I know about these six candidates. I’ve read about them, I’ve listened to them, I know them personally, what have you. These six people I have a strong feeling and to some degree I have a first, second, third to sixth preference, and after about six people, I didn’t feel that I knew them well enough or that it made any difference who was 7th and 12th and 18th.

Here's where later votes can be important: Your first vote will go to your first-choice candidate, but if your first choice is eliminated in later rounds (keep reading!), your later votes can express your priorities, beliefs, philosophy, or politics--obviously depending on what kind of an election we are talking about.

jam: Well, we don’t have political parties [in Drupal]. But, we came up with a couple of scenarios where you might want to know how you’re later votes are relevant:

  • jam: If you would like a woman to represent you, you should choose the specific person you want to vote for first and then your subsequent top votes should be for women.
  • jam: If you want someone from a particular geography, you should whether that is not some places and all other places, like if you think it’s important that someone is from a developing country rather than United States or Europe, you should have a slate of those people on top, and so on.
  • Schnitzel: Yes, there is age maybe. Like if you want somebody that’s really young, You first give the votes to all the people that are the younger ones.

Schnitzel: So, it’s really important to say if my first vote does not get in or gets kicked out ... who else would I prefer to be the next person ... and that goes through the whole list.

So how the heck does IRV work?

Flowchart by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Zerodamage Used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA 3.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

IRV Voting Flowchart by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Zerodamage Used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA 3.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Read more about IRV on Wikipedia.

Here is a quick and clear video produced by Minnesota Public Radio explaining IRV with a small field of candidates (I've also embedded it below).

jam: So, in a first-past-the-post election system, whoever gets, depending on the system, a plurality of votes ... simply the person who gets the most votes at the end can just win. Some systems declare you have to get to a majority of the votes and then there are different ways of getting to that majority and the instant runoff system is one of the majority systems. So essentially what happens is you have, however many candidates, everybody cast their votes. Those are tallied against the candidate names if a candidate, at any point, has more than half of the votes in play, they immediately win and the election is done.

jam: Now, if nobody has a majority in the first round, the person with the very fewest votes, they’re thrown out. So, it’s an instant runoff because they’re thrown out of the system and the field is reduced by one, and everybody’s votes are counted again, [so if you voted for the eliminated candidate, that vote is annulled and] my second vote then comes into play and is transferred to another candidate. So, over the rounds in our election, you see the number of votes for people growing while other people are eliminated.

Schnitzel: Yes, but only as long as the person that voted added more people. If like you only voted for six people and [your six choices were all eliminated], then your vote is gone.

jam: Right, and so there’s a category in the results called "Exhausted Votes" and the exhausted votes are not counted towards the total. So over time, we found that the total number of votes in play was shrinking because people (like I did) stopped making a choice at a certain point.

jam: So, we go into round two. The votes from the person who’s been removed and then when those votes removed, does anybody have more than 50%? ... No? The lowest ranking candidate is removed, then let’s say that they were my second choice and they were eliminated then my third vote comes into play and gets moved to whomever, and so on and so forth. So, depending on your skill, or luck, or the popularity of your opinions, the longer the thing goes on, the more relevant your later votes can become.

jam: So, this moves on over time until, the number of votes in play, until somebody gets half of those and then stop, and there’s a winner. So, you can have a winner in the first round, but in our case, we had 22 rounds of voting.

The Play by Play - 13:07 to ca. 25:00 in video

In the video version of this podcast, you can see us scrolling through Holly Ross's post, 2016 Drupal Association at-large election winner announced. Follow along with our commentary in the vide or check it all out yourself (and keep us honest!) on the Drupal Association website!

Here's an abbreviated version of our play-by-play commentary. Watch the video version for all the details.

Round 1

Schnitzel: Yes. So, that’s the round one and as it says at the bottom, that’s the count of the first choices. So, everybody’s single vote will look at the first person that was on the first place.

jam: So, round one is the tally of all first votes.

Schnitzel: Correct and then we see, like in my case, I had 333 people that put me on the first position and we had ...

jam: Shyamala had 390, Matt had 158 and Enzo had 458. So, Enzo in a first-past-the-post plurality system would have won at this point.

Schnitzel: Correct.

jam: Shyamala would have been second, if that’s relevant, you would have been third, and Matt Saunders would have been fourth.

Schnitzel: Yes.

jam: But Enzo didn’t get a majority of the 2,100-something votes that were there. So, we go to round two.

Round 2

Schnitzel: So, it says here count after eliminating "tolabs". So, tolabs is not something to do with instant runoff voting. It’s actually a username. And if we look, he had the least amount of votes and it’s so small, the chart doesn’t even work, but he had, I think, one or two votes and what happened – and it says, transferring votes. So, he gets eliminated, but his votes, they don’t automatically go to Exhausted. jam: We can see here that danigrrl picked up one vote. Schnitzel: So, that means the person that voted first for tolabs voted a second place, danigrrl.

Round 3

jam: Now, Enzo is still in the lead, but he doesn’t have majority of the votes remaining. So we got to round three. Enzo still has a majority and down at the bottom it says, “Shehrevar was eliminated,” three people voted for him and I can see that one was moved to Shyamala, one was moved to rachit_gupta, and one was moved to tomgrandy. So, at that point, people who voted for Shehrevar as the first vote had three different choices for their second, and nothing was moved to Exhausted yet.

Round 4

jam: In round four, Kendillard was removed and that means six votes moved, and I can see that Enzo, and Shyamala, "Redacted" (there are a couple of people whose names are not showing here), and rachit_gupta picked up those votes.

Round 5

Schnitzel: That’s an interesting one because at round five is the first one ... krylov, he had eight votes and now, we see the first time exhausted votes. So, we see down here that Exhausted has now received four votes.

jam: So, four people who voted for krylov as the first had no second or any other choices.

Schnitzel: Correct. So, that’s how the Exhausted actually.

jam: Right and you’re going to see Exhausted growing here.

Rounds 6-8

Knibals was moved in round six and a couple people picked up a couple of votes and exhausted also picked up a couple of votes. Redacted in the first position was eliminated in round seven and fourteen votes were moved, and a significant number of them was moved to Exhausted - six of those went to Exhausted. So, there are a lot of people only voting for one person.

Schnitzel: Yes.

jam: Round eight, tomgrandy was out and his 18 votes, went to the drupalviking ... a whole bunch of people and to Exhausted.

Schnitzel: One interesting one is, now is the first time that the vote that before got moved to another person. That person got now, again, kicked out.

jam: Yes, so Tom picked up a vote ... in round five.

Schnitzel: tomgrandy picked up one from krylov. Now, he gets kicked out.

jam: Then in round eight, Tom is out. So that means that somebody whose first vote was krylov and second vote was tomgrandy. Now, their third vote is coming into play for Shannon Vettes, or for danigrrl, or for voidberg, or Schnitzel, or John, or ...

Schnitzel: Maybe that person didn’t put anything on third so it’s a ...

jam: Right and three votes went to Exhausted.

Your votes are always anonymous!

Schnitzel pointed out here that even though your votes are tracked to move to different candidates (or Exhausted) as the process goes on, "it is still anonymous. The information that we have here does not allow you to say, 'Oh, Jam voted first for that.' You don’t know."

Round 9-13

jam: All right. Yes, so it’s still secret. So, at round nine which is almost halfway through, Enzo is still in the lead, Shyamala is still second, and you’re still third.

Schnitzel: Yes.

jam: Matt Saunders is still fourth, but his fourth position is still getting weaker and Shannon Vettes has picked up quite a lot.

Schnitzel: So, it’s going through.

jam: Round 10, Gemdev got eliminated and significant votes went to ... So now there’s a pattern emmerging. Enzo picked up a bunch, Shyamala picked up a bunch, Exhausted picked up a lot, danigrrl and Shannon Vettes has picked up there. In 11, 12, and the number of Exhausteds [is going up fast], so people stopped voting. A lot of people stopped voting and there are more and more Exhausteds going through here as the rounds go through. Round 13, the drupalviking went. Here you start to see Schnitzel and Shyamala picked up quite a lot of votes in round 13.

Round 14-19

jam: Round 14, Shyamala is starting to catch up to Enzo.

Schnitzel: Interesting, Enzo is still in the lead, but he still does not have more than 50% of all votes [not counting the Exhausted category, of course]. So that means, it continues to go on.

jam: So at round 14, Enzo has 471 votes. The second place, Shyamala has 428, but there are more than 1,000 [votes in play]. Enzo has won every round, but not a majority of the votes in play. Round 15, this continues. People are being eliminated - Enzo adds a lot. You, Schitzel, are starting to catch up. So, your second, third, fourth of votes with people must have been pretty strong.

Schnitzel: Correct, yes.

jam: Because you’re really, really catching up in the later rounds. Enzo still has a pretty solid lead in round 17. Five hundred votes to 441. So, he’s 59 ahead of Shyamala, but there’s still not a majority. So, the votes go on. Round 18, Shyamala picks up a ton.

Schnitzel: From Rachit, yes. Now, I think she overtakes Enzo, I’m not sure yet.

jam: Right. So, this is an interesting point and in theory, I know that Shyamala and Rachit are from India and if I were in the Indian community I think it would be important to me to have an Indian representative. So, people whose first or second vote went to Rachit. The vote after that went to Shyamala and so, when he – 120 votes were transferred and Shyamala picked up 48 those. So, almost half, 40-45% of his voters had her as the next choice. So, she has a strong boost in round 18 and Exhausted has a very large boost as well. Shannon Vettes gets eliminated in round 19 and Enzo and Shyamala basically are now head to head at 517 to 515.

Round 20

jam: So potentially, we could say here at round 20 that people from whom it was important to have a female representative, danigrrl had a lot of support, but she was eliminated in round 20. So, of her voters, Enzo picked up 12 as a second choice after Dani, but Shyamala picked up 60 as a second choice after danigrrl. So, at that point, she has moved a good piece on 40-50 votes ahead of Enzo in round 20, but neither of them has a majority. Exhausted has grown a lot. So, we come to round 21 which is the penultimate round and Matt Saunders is eliminated and you actually got a ton of his voters.

Schnitzel: Yes, that was interesting.

jam: You moved into second place in the penultimate round, but Shyamala has now 607 which is still not quite a majority and the very last round of voting is round 22 where Enzo was actually eliminated because you’d moved into second place.

Schnitzel: Yes.

jam: Exhausted grew a lot and Shyamala ended up with 714. So basically, at the last round, when there are only two players, by definition, whoever has more votes wins.

Schnitzel: Has the majority of votes.

jam: Right.

Questions and Suggestions: So how could we make this better? - ca. 22:00 to end

Question: So maybe my vote didn't count at all?

Schnitzel: One interesting thing is that I was surprised is that at round 22, we see the biggest received to Exhausted. So, a lot of people after Enzo did not choose anything after that.

I am a tiny bit confused and/or unclear at this point in our conversation. Schitzel and I work it out: Once Enzo (or any candidate) is eliminated and was either your last choice (even if you only cast one 1st-place vote and no others) or your last choice still in contention (maybe your 2nd, 3rd, and later choices were already eliminated), your vote moves to Exhausted and your vote ceases to count.

Schnitzel brings up a very important point here: If I have not forseen this particular runoff, I might not be able to participate in it because of my previous choices, but I still could have an opinion and might feel left out or disenfranchised at this point.

Schnitzel: Yes, and my question would be, if you would ask these 342 people if they only could vote between me and Shyamala, that they probably would have an opinion, but because they did not add me or Shyamala on their voting sheets, their votes got Exhausted and that’s where instant runoff is really interesting.

jam: [I wondered about] the people whose vote has gone into Exhausted with 756 people who voted, is it that they’re vote sort of didn’t count?

Schnitzel: Yes, it did not.

So how about two round of voting? Eliminating confusion, empowering better choices?

jam: In our election, in this specific case, we had in round one, in order of preference, Enzo, Shyamala, Schnitzel, and Matt Saunders. If we go all the way down to the end, those are actually the four last candidates when you get down to round 20. Now, we don’t know if that pattern repeats itself in every instant runoff or not. It might not, but what we were thinking is that in our system with 22 candidates and the candidate calls [(the DA candidate debate calls)], I found it really challenging to inform myself about 22 people, and if I wanted to take all 22 of them seriously and research them, and follow-up, and whatever, that would be more commitment than most us can really invest in a Drupal community election, for better or for worse.

Schnitzel: Or in anything :-)

Schnitzel: Yes, so my idea was to do two rounds of voting. The first one is you only have one vote which is basically like the vote we have in the first round. That would be the result of exactly what would have happened, it’s what the people put on their first place. That’s the first type of voting that happens and after that, you take the top players like here, we say, “Okay. We have four top players.” Maybe five, whatever how we define it.

jam: But a small number of final candidates.

Schnitzel: Correct and these final candidates have time to do an actual [campaign and debates]. I was part now twice both years. So, in total four hours of these calls and to me, they are important, but they’re really hard to follow, and at the end, if you have 22 people, everybody says the same.

Schnitzel: There’s not really a debate and you cannot actually have a discussion between 22 people. It’s not possible, but it will be possible between four people. Then after that, we do an instant runoff of the remaining people. The instant runoff is important. I want to say, “Okay, if and that’s exactly the case, if Enzo is not getting in, I want to have Schnitzel, and then maybe Shyamala.” That is [how] an instant runoff works and people understand that if it’s less amount of players.

jam: Right because in the current result, none of us could have known ahead of time that the final choice would come down to you and Shyamala, right?

Schnitzel: Correct.

jam: Maybe they didn’t consciously form an opinion about that choice and presenting this in this order, it feels like after a while, the influence of our later choices is kind of unknown which was ...

Schnitzel: Yes, but it is important.

jam: Yes, so what we’re thinking, the core of our suggestion is, we get to a place where there are a small and manageable number of popular candidates who then have real mini campaign and really talk with each other and really talk with you, the voters with the community. Then, you can go back and vote in a sensible way with a very, very known quantity of people that you had the chance to really actually learn about.

Schnitzel: Yes.

jam: Yes, so what we’re thinking, the core of our suggestion is, we get to a place where there are a small and manageable number of popular candidates who then have real mini campaign and really talk with each other and really talk with you, the voters with the community. Then, you can go back and vote in a sensible way with a very, very known quantity of people that you had the chance to really actually learn about.

Potential mechanisms to reduce the initial field to a manageable number

  • Two rounds of voting (as described above)
    • jam: We could have the voting exactly like it is now, but stop it at four candidates and say, “We stop at four candidates. Now we go to the campaign part two.”
  • Require community endorsements for nomination
    • jam: Another suggestion that we heard was what if the self-nomination process is set up so that you have to get 100 community endorsements to get on the ballot. You have to get 100 Drupal.org members to endorse you on a form and then you’re allowed to run. There could be other ways.
  • Require measurable community engagement for nomination
    • Schnitzel: One other thing that I could imagine is, the board member is all about representation. So, why shouldn’t a person that wants to be on the board show that they can actually do their things somehow before. We have community working groups in the Board that already allows you to do to be like a board member light. So, we could say that only people that showed some interest in representing, in helping the community before ... So, you have to do one year first of service on the community working group and then you can step up.

Schnitzel: That would be another way and I, to be honest for myself, it doesn’t matter what we do. There’s a lot of good ideas. I think we should try them out. I think one thing is that we have to reduce the amount of people they can vote for.

jam: Right and I want to be very clear that everyone who stepped up to be a candidate, thank you for doing that and thank you for caring about the community, and none of this conversation is about personalities, or decisions, or anything about individuals.

But I found the system now, two years in a row, confusing and I believe I’ve engaged with it significantly. So, I wanted to explain what just happened (to myself!) and we think that there’s room for improvement. I definitely want to follow-up with this. We’re going to get a political scientist to explain us why this is actually a good idea and why we’re idiots.

Schnitzel: Maybe our ideas are really bad. [Laughter]

jam: Right, “No, you guys are idiots.” “Okay, sorry.” I think in the meantime, if you also have questions that we haven't addressed or that you’d like us to ask somebody who knows what they’re talking about, please get in touch with us, I’m @HornCologne on Twitter. He’s @Schnitzel on Twitter. We are both pretty easy to find online :-)

jam: There is a comment form on this podcast as well. So, you could also just drop something in there and I’d love to hear from you and we’re going to keep this conversation going.

Schnitzel: Yes, we will.

jam: Sorry you didn’t win. Congratulations, Shyamala.

Schnitzel: Congratulations.

jam: Congratulations everybody who put yourselves out there. Thank you. Bye-bye.