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An idea for the "We shouldn't pay to vote for Hugos" debate - RonO's Ramblings

Mar. 26th, 2008 10:11 am An idea for the "We shouldn't pay to vote for Hugos" debate

Over the last couple of months, I've observed a debate/discussion pitting people who think that it is unfair that we (Worldcon fandom, WSFS, SMoFS, or whoever "we" are) charge for the privilege of nominating and voting for the Hugo awards against those who understand the need and history of this. The back of my brain has generated an idea that may, or may not, help with this situation.

One of the may arguments in support of paying for the privilege of Hugo voting is that the awards are given by the WSFS, and you have to be a member of the organization to vote. However, this gets missed by a lot of newer fanish types who don't understand that membership in the Worldcon is membership in the WSFS for the same year.

So my proposal, which would require amending the WSFS constitution, would result in renaming a Worldcon supporting membership, but would probably also do some additional background adjustments.

Specifically, I am thinking that the WSFS should charge a membership fee, which can be paid two years in advance. Since the WSFS doesn't maintain its own finances, they would as a rule pass the process or collecting the fee and maintaining the membership of the organization to the seated Worldcon for the year the membership is good for. Further, they will provide the seated Worldcon funds equaling the membership fee for each member for the purpose of administering these funds and lists.

Therefore, in order to nominate for the Hugos, you must be a member of the WSFS either for that year, or the previous; and to vote you must be a member of the WSFS for that year. Similarly, in order to vote in site selection, you must be a member of the WSFS both the year that the voting takes place, and have agreed, and paid in advance, to be a member for the year that the site is being selected for.

As proposed, this makes no real change in how we work. It just changes the name from "Supporting Membership" to "WSFS Membership."

Of course, at the same time, the WSFS could set a fixed amount for this, and allow the for a higher supporting membership to the convention that would include convention publications -- with WSFS members who are not convention members only getting the ballots. But that is a somewhat separate addition. In order to make this addition work, there would have to be serious discussion about the need for an additional voting fee on top of the future WSFS membership dues to vote in site selection.

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Comments:

From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 26th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
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It's vaguely possible that renaming the current "Supporting Membership" to "WSFS Voting Membership" might help a few people understand things more clearly. But since (as you know) there is no permanent structure for WSFS itself, you couldn't pass the money through WSFS to the individual Worldcon committee -- and trying to create a separate independent structure for WSFS independent of the Worldcon committees is political suicide. ("WSFS Inc! To the barricades, comrades!)

I wouldn't mind modifying the rules to give Hugo voting rights to anyone with a membership in either the previous or current year. We already give prior-year rights on nominating. More complicated, but possibly more symetrical, would be to give nominating rights to the previous and current years' members, and final ballot rights to the current and subsequent years' members.

There is an administrative challenge in doing this, since every Worldcon is independent of every other Worldcon. Getting them to cooperate is often very difficult. Worldcons aren't even actually required to send nominating ballots to their members the following year. The subsequent Worldcon must accept ballots from their predecessor's members, but aren't actually required to inform them of their eligibility to nominate.

I rather expect (because I'm going to write it!) that we will see a proposal before the WSFS Business Meeting to not necessarily set a fixed amount on the WSFS Voting Membership, but to set a cap on it. That cap would have to be sufficiently high as to cover the cost of servicing the membership with a reasonable additional amount to cover some of the overhead -- since every individual Worldcon is the annual home office of WSFS, it makes sense that even the WSFS Voting Memberships should cover some of the overhead.

I would continue to insist that you must buy your membership to WSFS two years hence in order to vote on site selection. Remember, that's not really a "voting fee." It's your membership for WSFS two years from now. The theory on this is that we only want people voting on the future site who are willing to be WSFS members that year regardless of where it's held -- not necessarily attend, but at least be members of the Society. And while I recognize how difficult that may be perceived for people who aren't interested in joining WSFS year-to-year, I think it's still the right thing for us to do. We want people who are committed to the future of WSFS to be participating in our site selection elections, not just people who think "Yeah, I'd go to it, but only if it's at X."
From:controuble
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)

still learning the ropes, here

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Oops - I just got lost again. Is the payment for site selection voting actually a supporting membership for the con that wins the vote (no matter which one wins)?
From:bovil
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)

Re: still learning the ropes, here

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It is.

It's technically a supporting membership in "Worldcon YEAR" before the selection is made, and those supporting membership registrations (the info section of the ballot) are given to the winner.

Edited at 2008-03-26 10:16 pm (UTC)
From:timill
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)

Re: still learning the ropes, here

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Yup - the actual wording is

"4.2.1: Voting shall be limited to WSFS members who have purchased at least a supporting membership in the Worldcon whose site is being selected."

(That's from an oldish Constitution, but I don't think it's changed recently.)
From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)

Re: still learning the ropes, here

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Is the payment for site selection voting actually a supporting membership for the con that wins the vote (no matter which one wins)?
Yes.

The Worldcon administering the election simply collects the ASM "voting fee" money, puts it in a separate account, and turns it over to the winning bid after the election, no matter who wins.
From:chocolatescifi
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
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I would have to see a draft of the actual proposal before making a commitment, but your idea does make sense. Which means that "Object To Consideration" will probably be the first thing said if it ever is presented to a Worldcon Business Meeting.
From:dd_b
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
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I'm not a BM buff, but from what I hear that's a fairly safe bet for *any* proposal, isn't it?
From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
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Actually, no, not any more. For a few years there, almost any proposal would get an OTC dropped on it. I actually proposed that we adopt a standing rule assuming an OTC on every piece of new business, but it never went anywhere.

Sometimes the OTC would carry overwhelmingly (everyone-to-two, the two being the maker and seconder) and the person whose proposal was killed would go away nursing a grudge against those dirty nasty SMOFS who never gave him/her a chance to even make his/her case. Sometimes, not only would the OTC not pass, but the vote for consideration would be substantially in favor of consideration, even if the proposal itself was ultimately defeated.

In recent years, we've seen more and more people realizing that it's in their best interests to start discussing proposals in public some time in advance and to start building up support. This usually means that they'll get a hearing before the BM even if their proposal ultimately is defeated.

What I think the BM regulars dislike is being surprised. Show up with an unexpected proposal and the best you can hope for is having it sent to committee for a year. If you've done no homework at all, you'll simply get your proposal spiked without debate.
From:dd_b
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
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Ah, out of date? Okay.

Just as well, really.
From:dd_b
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
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I think maybe we should tell the people who are all het up about having to belong to WSFS to vote on the Hugos to blow it out their *ears*. There is no other major award, in any field, that is voted on by anybody who wants to vote, with no qualifications or limitations. Nobel? Nope. Pulitzer? Nope. Booker? Nope. Oscars? Nope. Nebula? Nope. Edgar? Nope. World Fantasy Award? Nope. And I don't think such a wide-open award is a good idea.

(The Locus awards may come closest, if you think they're "major"; and their existence in our field, and their lesser status, seem to me two strong arguments for NOT changing the Hugos to be more like them. This is not intended as criticism of the Locus awards, they do what they're intended to do and they're useful. But I don't see "Locus award winner" on the cover of books.)

(Betcha somebody can come up with an example I didn't think of that *is* wide open. Be warned that I'm prepared to deny that it's "major" :-).)
From:cherylmmorgan
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
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As Kevin says, there are administrative challenges, but broadly speaking I'm all in favor of this. In particular I think this change would help WSFS reach out to the many fans around the world who can only expect a Worldcon within easy reach once a decade or less. I'm firmly of the belief that if you reach out to people and make them feel part of the community then they will be more likely to want to attend (and work on) the convention at some point, so expanding WSFS membership should be good for Worldcon.

We do, however, need to be careful about the "WSFS Inc" thing. We really don't want to be seeing fandom have the sort of disputes they have been having at SFWA.
From:bovil
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
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I like this idea, because it (slightly) raises the profile of WSFS in relation to the activities it governs, and better explains the reality behind the scenes. I might nitpick the membership level names a smidge, but that's all. I think all membership levels should explicitly remind folks that this makes them a WSFS member.

I'm worried by the execution.

The "Eeeevil WSFS Inc!" folks will, of course, see this as a power-grab. It's very difficult to counter an irrational argument.

It also opens a procedures & policies can of worms. I don't think this is a bad thing, it's just a messy thing. Since we're talking about multi-year and future memberships, I can see the (if nothing else, symbolic) need for WSFS to maintain its own copy of membership rolls for each year that has active or pending membership terms. This would require regular (or at least event-deadline-based) updates of membership data of the Worldcon committees.
From:chocolatescifi
Date:March 27th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Why is the idea of "WSFS, Inc." so repugnant to some people?
From:bovil
Date:March 27th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
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If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand. Don't worry, none of the rest of us do either.
From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 27th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I suppose the simple version is that it implies centralized control by some group, and everyone assumes that they'll lose their own control -- that is, nobody trusts anyone else to run it. There are also historical reasons going back to a big dust-up in the 1950s, and there are still people around who were there. Try Googling for "WSFS Inc" and some of the articles will explain it in more detail.
From:chocolatescifi
Date:March 30th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
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In other words, most of the people involved have the general maturity level of 5-year-olds.
From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 30th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
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You said it, not me.
From:chocolatescifi
Date:March 31st, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Damn right I did.
From:timill
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
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I think, on the whole, considering one thing with another, I'm probably against this, on the grounds that a Supporting Membership supports a lot of things that aren't WSFS functions, and the renaming would lead to pressure to take that support out of the WSFS Membership.

I think we'll still wind up with confusion; it'll just be different confusion, and it could cost Worldcons money, which would also be a bad thing.
From:cherylmmorgan
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:55 pm (UTC)
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Actually I think it would make Worldcons money. Most of the things you have to give a supporting member are either minimal-cost (voting rights) or declining-cost (progress reports). Even the souvenir book ought to be able to finance itself with advertising, and reaching a wider audience would help that. I suspect that a reasonably priced WSFS membership that included Hugo voting rights would result in significant extra income for Worldcons.
From:kevin_standlee
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I can certainly see the concern. If we did do it, we'd have to explain that "WSFS doesn't have a separate headquarters, so part of your annual membership goes to the individual annual Worldcon who acts as WSFS's headquarters that year."

While I do think we currently charge too much for the existing supporting membership, I would not support setting the price of the WSFS membership at or below the marginal cost of providing the membership. That would unfairly burden the attending members. Both kinds of members should be paying something toward the overhead cost of keeping the society running from year to year; the only question is how much is appropriate for each type of member.