March 2000 ICANN Meeting in Cairo: At Large Membership and Elections
At its Cairo meeting, the ICANN Board will attempt to complete work on the structure of its At Large Membership.
This page reviews the existing plans for that structure, the remaining issues to be resolved, and several alternative structures. The Board actively solicits public comments, ideas, and criticisms via the Public Comment Forum. Some specific questions are flagged below.
Last October, the ICANN Board adopted a set of Bylaws that establish a two-stage process for the election of ICANN's 9 At Large directors:
The rationale for an indirect election system derived from (1) the desire to build a degree of deliberation and consensus-building into the process of choosing ICANN Directors, and (2) the desire to tailor the rights and responsibilities of members (particularly the use of derivative lawsuits) to ICANN's unique nature, rather than relying on the default provisions of the California Corporations Code.
The Board's resolutions in Santiago provided that the At Large Council would consist of no more than 18 members. The implementing Bylaws provide that the At Large Council will be composed of 18 members:
The regionally-elected council members must be citizens of different countries located within that region. The Bylaws provide that the initial set of elections to the At Large Council will take place in two stages:
First stage: Election of 6 Council members
2 regional members
1 from Africa
1 from Latin America/Caribbean
4 globally at large members
Second stage: Election of 12 Council members
8 regional members
1 from Africa
2 from Asia/Pacific
2 from Europe
1 from Latin America/Caribbean
2 from North America
4 globally at large members
The triggering threshold for the first stage of the election process is 5,000 members. After the first stage has been completed, the Board will examine the election process and the results, and must determine (by a two-thirds vote) that they were fair and effective. At that point, the first six At Large Council members will be seated, and will choose 3 of the At Large Directors. The Board has the opportunity to make modifications to the election process (by a two-thirds vote), after which the second stage is launched. If upon the conclusion of the first stage the Board does not determine (by a two-thirds vote) that the process was fair and effective, the results are cancelled and the Board is directed to devise a new process. The terms of At Large Council members chosen in this initial round of voting will be staggered:
First 6 Council members (first stage)
Terms expire 30/6/2001
Remaining 12 Council members (second stage)
6 terms expire 30/6/2002
6 terms expire 30/6/2003
After the initial round of elections to the At Large Council, subsequent elections will be held annually.
A few miscellaneous provisions: Modifications to the election rules will require a two-thirds vote of the Board. At Large Council members will be limited to two consecutive terms. Any given corporation or organization is limited to no more than 1 employee, officer, or director on the At Large Council. ICANN Directors cannot simultaneously serve on the At Large Council. If the number of members ever in the future falls below 5,000, the ability of the At Large Council to elect ICANN Directors is suspended until the number of members again climbs above 5,000.
The At Large Council elects its own chairman, who must hold an open meeting in connection with ICANN's annual meeting. According to the Bylaws [Art. II, Sec. 9(f)], "The purposes of the meeting shall be to address the effectiveness of the methods used to select members of the At Large Council and the processes for the nomination of At Large Directors and to allow Members to discuss issues of importance to the Members."
The At Large Council is given the responsibility to elect ICANN Directors, under nomination and election procedures of its own design. If an At Large Council member accepts a nomination to be a candidate for At Large Director, that member must recuse herself from any further participation in the election process. For further background, see the At Large membership page and the final report of the Membership Advisory Committee. The Board's resolutions on membership are linked at the bottom of this page.
In general, the Bylaws call upon the Board to establish an election process, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Board. Following are some specific pending issues on which the ICANN staff solicits public comment. For ease of reference, some obvious questions have been posed for public comment (marked with a "Q."); commenters should not feel limited to those questions, however.
The Bylaws specify that: "The Board shall establish (i) criteria for such registration, including, but not limited to, requiring registrations to be filed within certain dates, the payment of a fee or dues, if any (subject to Section 3(b) of Article III), the provision by the individual of a valid electronic mail and/or physical address and proof of citizenship and/or residency . . . ." [Art. II, Sec. 2]
For purposes of the membership application, the Board has determined that membership registration should require the member's (1) name; (2) functioning email address; and (3) physical address. The membership registration system currently under construction requires those three pieces of data, and does not require proof of citizenship or residency. The planned voting verification mechanism will transmit a membership password via email, and a unique identifier number via surface mail. To cast a vote, a member will be required to provide his/her name, password, and unique identifier number.
The Board has not established an expiration date for membership registration. The Bylaws state that: "The Board shall establish . . . (ii) expiration dates or times for such registration." [Art. II, Sec. 2]
The purpose of the expiration date is to combat the possibility of recurrning fraud by ensuring that membership registrations represent real persons with accurate, up-to-date personal data. The MAC recommended that memberships expire 30 days afer the annual election of Directors, and that they must accordingly be renewed annually. Under the MAC's plan, renewal would be effective upon electronic confirmation by the member of the accuracy of existing registration data. This recommendation may need to be revisited, in light of the fact that registration information now includes a physical mailing address, as well as name and email address.
The Bylaws specify that the Board should make available some means by which Members can communicate with each other. Specifically, the Bylaws state that "The Corporation shall, pursuant to policies adopted by the Board and consistent with other policies of the Corporation, provide a method for Members to communicate with other Members in such ways and under such circumstances as the Board determines are appropriate and desirable." [Art. II, Sec. 3]
It appears that there are at least 6 options for such communications:
These options need not be mutually exclusive. ICANN has recently developed and launched a Web-based, password-activated public comment forum interface.
The Board must determine basic rules for nomination, meaning the criteria by which candidates for the At Large Council (and, later, for At Large Directors) qualify for nomination.
Most previous commenters on this question have supported one or both of the following:
Other nomination qualifications might include (1) the candidate's agreement to abide by certain campaign rules, (2) the candidate's agreement to make public personal background information (job title, education, city of residency, etc.), and/or (3) the candidate's agreement to provide responses to general questions about ICANN issues (for example: "What is your position on the addition of new top-level domains to the DNS?").
Perhaps the most complex decision still before the Board is to determine the best voting and election methodology for the At Large elections.
First, the Board must determine whether candidates for the At Large Council should all run together globally, or should each choose between running globally or regionally.
An advantage of separating global and regional candidates is that the voting system will be simpler and more transparent. Each voter casts one ballot for candidates in her region; and one ballot for the global At Large candidates. In addition, this option makes it easy to ensure that regional At Large seats are elected only by residents of that region.
The alternative is a single ballot for all candidates worldwide. This system would allow candidates to run both globally and regionally, hoping that they win election either way. In such a system, there are (at least) two options for determining the winners:
The distinction may seem insignificant, but it is likely that the different alteratives would produce different results from among the same pool of voters. The actual process would be a bit more complicated than that, because of the two-stage election process being contemplated, but that provides the general idea.
Second, the Board must determine what kind of voting system to use. This question is quite important, because even small variations in voting system will produce very different results from the same pool of voters. In general, there are two types of voting systems:
There are many variations on how preferential voting can be implemented. Preferential voting is thought to be less susceptible to majoritian domination and more protective of minority interests. It is, however, more complex, tends to be difficult for users to understand, and in some variations can lead to surprising outcomes. Experts in voting systems are avidly invited to provide better explanations and commentary about the various voting system options.
A related question is whether ballots should be secret. This issue has two dimensions.
First, should individual ballots be made public? The disclosure of individual votes would allow airtight verfication of the integrity of the voting system; however, it would violate the ordinary principle that voting is a matter of individual conscience and should accordingly be conducted anonymously. The recommendation of the MAC was that ballots should not be made public.
Second, should ICANN (or a trusted third party) confidentially retain ballots to allow for independent verification of individual votes? Staff research has confirmed that it is technologically possible to segregate online vote tallies from individual Internet ballots in a transparently reliable manner -- this would effectively allow for verifiable secret ballots. However, a basic question is implicated: what level of transparency is necessary to provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of the voting system.
Q.E.4. What level of transparency is necessary to provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of the voting system?
Q.E.5. Should individual ballots be made public?
Q.E.6. Should ICANN (or a trusted third party) confidentially retain ballots to allow for independent verification of individual votes?
Consistent with the recommendation of the MAC, ICANN staff has assumed that independent election monitoring and verification will be a part of the overall At Large membership election process. To reach closure on this issue, a number of questions must be answered.
A number of concerns about potential campaign practices have been raised.
First, what avenues for campaigning should be made available? Candidates must have the ability to communicate their views and ideas to ICANN's At Large members. However, many At Large members will resign membership if forced to endure endless waves of unsolicited candidate email. It has been suggested that ICANN should provide web space to candidates to post their pictures, professional background info, and statements on goals, ideas, and positions on issues. In addition, ICANN could create an optional list which members can choose to join, and which candidates can employ to send (for example) 1 message per 24-hour period.
Second, should ICANN provide a forum in which members can post comments on particular candidates? The advantage of such a forum is that it would foster the kind of debate and discussion which will illuminate the nature of the candidates, most of whom will be entirely unfamiliar to most members. The downside is the potential for abuse, mean-spirited slurs, and outright disinformation. An alternative might be to create a mechanism whereby members can post questions to candidates, and the candidates can post responses.
A third key issue is whether ICANN should attempt to limit campaign expenditures. On the one hand, it does not seem fair to allow candidates with corporate backing (or independent wealth) to spend significant sums of money to promote their candidacies. In light of the ever-increasing monetization of the domain name space, it is not difficult to imagine that an interested entity with deep financial resources would be powerfully motivated to place sympathetic candidates on the At Large Council. On the other hand, ICANN is not in a good position to effectively monitor compliance and enforce campaign spending restrictions. Through its At Large membership site, ICANN might attempt to counter the effects of money by providing a central, neutral space through which members can learn about candidates, their qualifications, and views. One general method for enforcing rules on campaign practices is to require as a condition of nomination the candidate's agreement to abide by ICANN's campaign rules. Failure to abide by the rules would invalidate the candidate's nomination.
The Bylaws [Art. 2, Sec. 9(a)] provide that the Board must determine a method for deciding which six of the second stage council members will have terms expiring 30/6/2002, and which 6 will have terms expiring 30/6/2003. There appear to be two general options: (1) according to vote, by which 6 highest vote-getters get 3-year terms, and (2) by random draw.
As currently constituted, the At Large Council will be composed of 2 individuals from each region, plus 8 elected globally at large. There are no provisions restricting the geographic origins of the 8 globally at large members. In theory, it would be possible for one region to wind up with 10 of the Council's 18 seats, if all 8 globally at large members were citizens of a single region.
It has been suggested that ICANN require that no more than half of the Council can be citizens of one region. This would effectively limit any one region to 7 of the 8 global at large seats, and to 9 of the 18 Council seats. Supporters of this proposition note that a majority from one region could effectively control the council and elect Directors of their choosing. Further, they argue that the basic geographic diversity provisions of the ICANN Bylaws provide that no more than half of the ICANN Board can be citizens of any one region; accordingly, it makes sense to apply that same rule to the At Large Council. One the other hand, there are several counter-arguments: (1) the At Large Council is supposed to be the most representative of ICANN's structures, and should not be burdened with any more geographic diversity limitations that are absolutely necessary; (2) it is extremely unlikely that one region could elect 8 of 8 global at large seats; and (3) existing geographic diversity provisions for the Board make further provisions unnecessary at the At Large Council level. In any event, the effect of such a restriction is only 1 Council seat (a maximum of 10 vs. a maximum of 9 for any one region).
A key unresolved issue is whether the At Large Council should have any responsibilities other than the election of ICANN Directors.
Some have suggested an ongoing policy review and/or development role, parallel to the Domain Name, Address, and Protocol Supporting Organizations' councils. Others have objected, saying that such a structure is needlessly duplicative, and would upset the careful compromise by which the technical and expert communities are given primary bottom-up policy development responsibilities through the SOs.
Some have suggested that the At Large Council be given no duties other than the election of ICANN Directors. One objection to this formulation argues that without ongoing responsibilities, there is little incentive for a widely respected individual to run to be a member of the At Large Council, rendering it more susceptible to capture by motivated special interests. Likewise, the lack of an ongoing role would leave the Council unaccountable for its decisions.
A third suggestion was to make ICANN's At Large Council responsible for recruitment and outreach, as the central means to bring individuals more effectively into the existing ICANN structures (including the Supporting Organizations), and to promote discussion and feedback from Internet users on issues before the Board. Objectors to this suggestion have argued that it amounts to the creation of artificial and unnecessary work.
To put the foregoing questions in context, it might be useful to review the various alternative structures that were discussed by the Board, the MAC, and others over the past year. (The descriptions are the ICANN staff's, summarizing a range of different proposals).
1. Open membership with direct election
Under this model, the membership is open to any individual, nominations are allowed with a low threshold, and the membership votes directly for the Board from among all nominees with no intervening Council or winnowing of nominees. A modified version of this model would have ICANN carefully define and articulate criteria for Board membership and the limited nature of the corporation's mandate, and use the persuasive force of those criteria to inform and educate the community to make the best voting decisions.
2. Stakeholder membership with direct election
Under this model, the At Large membership is limited to *stakeholders*, which can be defined in a large number of ways. For example: domain name registrants; holders of IP addresses; protocol number registrants. There may be a number of other ways to define "stakeholder" so as to more closely align ICANN's voting membership to its limited, technical-coordination mission.
3. Open membership with nominating committee and direct election
With a nominating committee, ICANN would have an open membership, which would directly elect Directors. Nominations, however, would be approved by the nominating committee. Employing neutrally articulated criteria, the nominating committee would narrow the pool of nominees down to twice (or perhaps three times) the number of open seats. The nominating committee itself would be chosen through a diversity of means -- perhaps each SO Council, DNSO constituency, regional Internet registry, and standards-development organization would name one member.
4. Open membership with deliberative body and indirect election
This is the current model of an At Large Council, which mirrors the three other Councils of the ICANN Supporting Organizations. The At Large members elect Council members, who in turn select nine Directors. The indirect election mechanism offers one level of protection from voter capture and promotes deliberative selection of the At Large Directors.
Links on At Large Membership
(Please send others to Andrew McLaughlin!)