The fate of the Best Semiprozine Hugo will be determined during the WSFS business meeting at Anticipation this August. I’ve invited Kevin Standlee, WSFS Business Meeting Chair, to give us an overview of how the process will work. Here’s his response:
The proposal to eliminate the Semiprozine Hugo Award and make existing semiprozines ineligible passed at the 2008 WSFS Business Meeting in Denver. If the proposal is ratified at the 2009 WSFS Business Meeting in Montreal, the Semiprozine Hugo ceases to exist at the end of Anticipation, and no Semiprozine Hugo will be presented in 2010 or thereafter.
Every attending member of the 2009 Worldcon may attend the Business Meeting and vote on the ratification. The debate and vote are expected to happen sometime after 10 AM on Saturday of the convention. If you want to vote on this proposal, you must be present in person at the time of the vote. Voting takes place only in person, not by mail, ballot, or by proxy.
The longer version of this piece that follows goes into much more detail about the background and process, including details of how the debate process works. It sounds more intimidating than it really is, if you just watch the other people present and follow along.
How to Change the Hugo Awards
The definitions of the Hugo Awards are listed in the WSFS Constitution, the current version of which is online at http://www.wsfs.org/bm/const-2008.html. To add, change, or delete categories, you amend section 3.3, which lists all of the categories. Amendments have to get a majority vote at the WSFS Business Meetings held at two consecutive Worldcons. For convenience, I’ll call the first-year vote “passage” and the second-year vote “ratification.”
The Business Meeting happens at scheduled times at each Worldcon, usually at 10 AM on the second, third, and fourth days of the convention. Any attending member of the convention may attend the Business Meeting and propose changes, debate, and vote on changes. You don’t elect representatives to a Board of Directors or send proxies. You represent yourself and nobody else. WSFS is governed along the lines of a New England Town Meeting, with “every fan for his/herself.”
The first meeting (Friday morning this year) is called the Preliminary Business Meeting. It cannot ratify or defeat any constitutional amendments awaiting ratification, although it does deal with setting debate time limits for the main debate at the second meeting (Saturday morning). Saturday is when things get serious. This is where the debate and votes will take place on constitutional amendments awaiting ratification. After dealing with any pending ratification votes, the meeting can then look at new proposals, and if is passes any of them, those proposals are sent along to the following year’s Worldcon for ratification. Nothing happens quickly, but that’s deliberate. The system is intended to make it difficult to change the rules quickly; that way, no one group can simply march in and overwhelm the organization in a single vote, but instead has to gain broad support over two years at two widely-separated places.
Meetings are generally governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, which sounds every intimidating, but essentially means things like “one person at a time,” and “be polite.” The Business Meeting staff members (Chairman, Secretary, etc.) are there to help people who don’t know the fine details of parliamentary law, so you should ask them questions if you don’t understand what’s going on.
The Pending Proposal
At the 2008 Business Meeting in Denver, there was a proposal introduced entitled “One Fewer Award.” The intent of this proposal was twofold: 1. Eliminate the existing Semiprozine Hugo Award and 2. Make anything that is currently eligible for Semiprozine ineligible for Best Fanzine. After a lot of discussion at the Preliminary meeting, the original proposal was sent to a committee that wrangled over it for an afternoon and brought it back to the Main Meeting. There, the meeting continued to argue over the precise effect of the proposal (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6123051486122564844) before proceeding to debate the substantive issues (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6777967203745594561). The proposal passed on a vote of 40-28 and was sent on to Montreal for ratification.
The 2009 Business Meeting in Montreal has the pending proposal on its agenda (http://www.wsfs.org/bm/agenda-2009.html) as item 3.2. It is not possible to establish an exact time when this proposal will come up for debate, but based on past experience, it should come up fairly early during the meeting on Saturday, sometime shortly after 10 AM. The debate time limit will be established the previous day, but the limit can be changed by a 2/3 vote at any time thereafter.
Because this is a ratification vote, very few if any changes can be made to the proposal. Only changes that would reduce the motion’s scope are permitted. Given that this is a proposal to completely remove a category, it is unclear exactly what sort of changes would actually reduce the category’s scope.
When the motion comes before the meeting, everyone present is allowed to debate the motion, subject to the ordinary restrictions on debate and the time limit. After the debate, the motion will be voted on, with every person present allowed to cast one vote.
Debate is a relatively formal process. One at a time, starting with the side in favor of the motion, speakers are recognized by the Chair. The way you are recognized is to stand up (unless you are physically incapable of doing so, in which case you should make arrangements with the Chairman in advance to determine how he’ll know you’re trying to obtain the floor). Raising your hand alone won’t get you recognized if other people are standing.
Speaking in Debate
The Chairman will pick one of the people who stood up, at which point all of the other people should sit down. Each speaker makes an argument supporting his/her side of the debate. Once the speaker is finished, s/he sits down, and people on the opposite side of the question should then rise to gain recognition and speak to their side of the question. This process continues until either nobody else wishes to speak, debate time runs out (and isn’t extended by a 2/3 vote), or a motion to close debate (called previous question for arcane historical reasons) passes by a 2/3 vote.
Etiquette in Debate
In debate, speakers do not directly address each other. Instead, they speak in the third person, through the Chair, even when directly responding to something another member has said. Example: “Mr. Chairman, the previous speaker said thus-and-such; I believe he is mistaken and actually…”
Debate Isn’t Factual; It’s Opinion
It’s a fact that frustrates many people that debate need not be factual. That is, just because the person speaking has made a mistake in fact, you don’t have the right to interrupt the speaker and correct him/her. Furthermore, if you wish to correct a prior speaker, you need to do so on your own debate time, so if you insist on correcting other speakers, you may find yourself using up your own side’s time without having made your own points. Simply disagreeing with a speaker does not give you the right to interrupt that person’s debate.
If you want to ask someone who is speaking a question, you can rise and, once the Chair recognizes you (“For what purpose does the member rise?”), ask the speaker if s/he will yield for a question. (S/he may not do so, because you’re using up his/her debate time.) If the speaker yields, then ask your question through the Chair. (“Mr. Chairman, do I understand the member to be saying that…”) If s/he does not yield, then sit down, because it is not your turn to speak.
You will sometimes have people rising and raising a “question” or other inquiry that really is a disguised form of debate. The Chairman will usually spot this and order the time spent asking such questions charged to the appropriate side of the debate.
There is one class of questions that aren’t debate: Parliamentary Inquiries. Those are questions about how to accomplish something or to query the parliamentary situation. For example, “How much debate time is left?” “Is there a way to extend this debate?” “How do I end the debate?” The Chairman answers these questions, and the time spent on them is charged equally to both sides of the question.
Once debate ends, the ratification motion will be put to a vote. It seems likely that the vote will be taken by the “serpentine” process, whereby all of the people in favor stand up and count off, after which the opponents then stand and count off. If there are more yes votes than no votes, the proposal is ratified, and the Semiprozine category ceases to exist after Anticipation. If there are more no votes (or the vote is tied), then the proposal fails ratification, and no changes are made.
It Ain’t Necessarily Over When It’s Over
When there is a highly contentious issue for which a large number of people are attending the meeting only for that issue, it is likely that many of the people present will leave after the vote is taken. However, anyone deciding to leave should keep in mind that anyone who votes on the side that prevailed can move, later that day or even the following day, to Reconsider the motion. If a majority vote to reconsider, then the proposal comes back before the meeting as if the original vote never happened.
For example, imagine that the ratification vote for the Semiprozine proposal comes up and is defeated 42-68. Forty people who were only interested in the Semiprozine proposal then leave because spending more than two hours of prime Worldcon time listening to debate on subjects about which they care not a bit is boring. Twenty minutes later, one of the people who voted against ratification (the prevailing side) moves to Reconsider the vote, and the vote to reconsider passes 43-27. The ratification proposal is now before the meeting again, and it might pass this time. (In practice, opponents of the proposal would do everything they could to delay the vote while some of them ran out to round up the people who voted earlier.)
Reconsider has almost never been used in the way described above, but it is always a possibility, and it seems possible that a meeting that thinks it is being “packed” (filled with single-issue voters who will leave shortly thereafter) may find someone who either genuinely changes his/her mind or strategically votes against his/her own interest in order to preserve the right of reconsideration. Whether that will happen in this case remains to be seen. There is no guarantee that such a maneuver would actually work is. From the few times similar things have happened, it is clear that there are people who might have been in favor of the side that lost the initial vote but who shy away from this sort of parliamentary maneuver on the grounds that it usually causes bad blood.