TAFF 2013: Where the votes came from

On every TAFF ballot (and most ballots for TAFF’s sibling fan funds), there is a piece of text at the bottom that reads something like this:

Reproduction of this form is encouraged. It is the official voting vehicle and must be reproduced verbatim.
Anyone reproducing this form should substitute their name here: John Coxon

A discussion brewed on the mailing list of past and present fan fund administrators over whether this was necessary and whether it was still worth doing, mostly driven by the release of a PDF voting form for the most recent DUFF race administered by Dave Cake and John Hertz. I pointed out that it was useful to be able to track where votes were coming from, but it occurred to me that I’ve never done anything huge with that information. As a result, I asked my co-administrator (the lovely Jacqueline Monahan, who has an incredible amount of patience with my odd requests, last-minute pieces of work and tendency to go off on tangents) to send me the breakdowns for the North American side of the race and I collated the sources of the European side. Hence, a graph!

A graph showing the number of votes for each source in the 2013 TAFF race.

In this TAFF race the delegate’s continent, Europe, was responsible for 60% of the votes http://laparkan.com/buy-tadalafil/ cast whereas the destination continent received around 40% of the votes. PayPal now accounts for around a third of payments made over the course of a race. Europe seems to have embraced PayPal more readily than our cousins across the pond, but PayPal is a significant source in both territories.

Another thing to note is the high number of votes cast at EightSquaredCon. Roughly 22% of the European voters chose to wait for Eastercon to come around instead of using PayPal or the Royal Mail to cast their vote, which signifies that a strong fan fund presence at large conventions is a useful thing to have. However, another 22% of the voters on the European side voted after having been sent a ballot by Jim Mowatt, the winning candidate, which also indicates the strong effect that a campaign that involves sending ballot forms to the potential voters can have on the race.1

This is reinforced by the fact that almost three-quarters of the US votes came as a result of Randy Byers’ concerted campaigning for Jim, which shows the importance of having someone campaigning strongly for you on the other side of the Atlantic. Candidates that don’t have people campaigning strongly in the destination continent regularly perform poorly; choosing good nominators is a key aspect to winning a fan fund race.

Perhaps all of this (campaign hard, ask people to vote for you, make sure your nominators campaign) is obvious, but I think it’s interesting to see the huge effect that Jim’s campaign had on the race in this instance. Over 40% of the votes can be traced to forms that were sent out by the Jim for TAFF group, which definitely demonstrates that campaigning inefficiently is something that candidates can’t afford to do if they want to win the race.

  1. This is corroborated by Liam Proven’s strong showing in the 2011 TAFF race, in which he scored a huge majority of the votes in Europe. 

Thoughts on a 2012 DUFF race

Guest post by Ulrika O’Brien

I understand a DUFF race for the Australian NatCon has been announced. I concluded that it was too late to run a DUFF race for this year’s ANZAC NatCons back in mid-April when the topic came up on the fan fund administrators’ list. I said as much then. In the intervening two weeks the prospect of equitably and successfully running a race to send a North American to one or both antipodean national conventions has moved from being merely not viable to somewhere between ‘unforgivably foolhardy’ and ‘hyperbole fails me’. Or, as I said in my comment on the race announcement in File 770, golly I think this is an outstandingly bad idea. What follows is a refinement of my comments there.

Nominations in this race are open until midnight, on May 11. That’s just ten days from now. Merely deciding to stand in a fan fund race takes a certain amount of thought and preparation, and that doesn’t begin to address time spent familiarizing oneself with the rules of the fund enough to identify potential nominators, contacting them, getting the right number to agree to nominate, and then getting them to submit their nominations to an administrator. Then there’s the question of writing an effective and engaging candidate platform in only 100 words. There realistically isn’t enough time in just ten days for potential candidates who were not alerted before the public announcement to do all that. Which means that the race is biased against candidates that were not pre-alerted before nominations opened. This opens DUFF up to legitimate complaints of bias. It is deeply unfair to any potential candidate who was not in the circle of those approached before nominations opened. The whole point of the nomination period is to widely and publicly announce that there will be a race so that any eligible fan can reasonably expect to mount a candidacy. An abbreviated nomination period with pre-identified candidates gives the appearance that the DUFF race is not truly open to all eligible fans. Accusations of favoritism are quick to arise in the context of fan funds, and I feel that running a race under these circumstances stands a good chance of damaging DUFF’s reputation for fairness.

Once nominations close the DUFF administrators will need to communicate with each other to compare nominators, validate them, and transfer any other pertinent information received by either — nominations and candidate’s statements can go to either administrator, after all. The thing is, the two current administrators have intermittent communications problems which could easily recur. It’s very possible that there could be some, even considerable, delays getting the ballots written, edited and distributed after nominations close. Even assuming the ballots get out the very next day, May 12, that’s only 19 days before the probable voting deadline of May 31. That’s barely more than two weeks’ voting. Two months is a more normal voting period. The voting period needs to be long enough that candidates can mount a campaign, and long enough that candidates and administrators can promote voting in the race at conventions, in fanzines, and through various social media. Getting people to vote and donate is surprisingly hard work, and without some time to build buzz, chances are good that the race will see few votes cast. Two of the things a fan fund race is supposed to do is raise money for the fund through balloting donations, and to raise awareness of the fund through a rousing public contest, amiably but ardently contested in as many fannish forums as possible. This will do neither.

Assuming that voting closes, as predicted, on May 31, the administrators will again need to get in touch with each other to exchange vote information, validate ballots, and do a joint vote count. I normally allow a full weekend for that process, in order to account for time differences allow time to vet last minute ballots and reach the contestants . So supposing for a moment that the DUFF administrators are still communicating perfectly, we can still reasonably suppose that a winner won’t be announced until June 3. By then, the New Zealand NatCon is over. The Australian one begins in FOUR DAYS. Of which two will need to be spent traveling. Who can realistically imagine booking any trip from North America to Australia in two days, let alone one that involves soliciting crash space with, and transport to, fans in multiple widely spaced cities (as is normal for a DUFF trip)? Even pretending that the ballots are validated and counted instantaneously, and the winner is announced June 1, the amount of planning time left for the winner is well under two weeks, therefore the tickets will be hideously expensive. In other words, a race run in this way will expend the maximum amount of funds to send a winner, while earning the minimum of raised funds during the race.

All this potential damage to the fund in aid of what? A trip to a convention that even the nominations announcement acknowledges the winner may not plausibly attend? Why announce a race to a convention the winner can’t make it to? A fan fund win is supposed to be an honor. Where’s the honor in all the frantic rushing around the candidates and winner would be forced into, especially when the only reason to hold a race now is to finish it before a convention the winner can’t expect to attend anyway?

I say stop the madness now. If the winner of such a DUFF race can’t attend the convention the race is held for, why not defer the race? There is no rule or moral obligation to hold races every year, or for a Natcon, or for that matter, to hold races only once in a year. There are other, better ways to hold this race: choose another ANZAC convention to send the winner to, or hold the race late this year for next year’s Australian and/or New Zealand Natcon, and hold a 2013 race for LoneStarCon, or (worst case) simply defer a year and hold the next southbound race next year and the next northbound one in 2014. If the object of this DUFF race is just to achieve “a reasonable amount of contact, merriment, and satisfaction” then there is absolutely no compelling reason to hold it now. And there is every reason to avoid all the potential frenzy, inconvenience, expense, and public discord that seem so very likely. So let’s not hold it now. Let’s hold it when there is enough time for a fair and equitable nomination period for potential candidates, a solid, high profile campaign for the candidates and the fund, and a sufficient planning period for the winner.

I strongly urge the DUFF administrators to reconsider this present course of action as deeply unwise and potentially very damaging to the fund. I urge them to reschedule the race to allow for a reasonable period of nominations, voting, and planning. If the administrators cannot or will not reschedule, then I strongly urge current and potential candidates to refrain from standing, or withdraw their candidacies, to defer the race de facto by cancelling this one. If the administrators and the candidates persist in this folly, then I strongly suggest that voters who care about the health of DUFF vote Hold Over Funds, without prejudice against any of the candidates, but for the greater good of the fund.

If not DUFFers, won’t drown

Apologies for the Swallows and Amazons quotation at the top, but I just couldn’t resist!

It was recently announced, in a recent news post from File 770, that DUFF (the fan fund between North America and Australasia) is to have a race down under this year. The convention to which the fund will send a delegate, Continuum VIII (this year’s national Australian convention), is to be held 39 days from the announcement. This means that anyone who wishes to stand for DUFF has ten days to find five nominators, twenty days to campaign, and nine days to arrange an entire trip and make it from North America to Australia in time for the convention. If the candidate is feeling daring, then they might try to make it to unCONventional 2012 in New Zealand, which would give them pretty much no time whatsoever between the end-of-May deadline and the start-of-June convention.

What follows is not my opinion as the administrator of a fellow fan fund: that would be out of place, and so I’m not going to comment in an official capacity. This is my personal opinion, as a fan with an interest in fan funds. And, this is, to speak plainly, quite insane. I know for a fact that David Cake (the Australasian administrator) was not in favour of such a race as recently as mid-April; I agreed with him at the time, because I think the timescale is fundamentally flawed. David has since said:

I think that IF you think the timing on the race is overly rushed for a reasonable race and/or trip, then voting for Hold Over Funds is an appropriate way to express that opinion.

Certainly, that would be my recommendation, given the below considerations.

Let’s consider the prospect of time off. Getting time off with a month’s notice should be fine, if candidates arrange it as soon as the nominations period closes. Getting time off with a week’s notice is more tricky — candidates are, I think, going to have to book time off work before they know they’ve won. There’s also the thorny issue of how long you stay — booking more than two weeks off at a time can be tricky, without warning your employer in advance. Is two weeks long enough to do justice to a trip Down Under?

What about the cost of the flights? There are nine days (at maximum) between the close of voting and the start of the trip. The flight costs are not going to be kind, so close to the point of boarding: can a fund really afford to send someone at such notice? One thing is certain: The eventual delegate is going to have to raise a lot of money during their administration in order to offset the cost of flights. One of the ways to raise http://www.mindanews.com/buy-effexor/ funds is traditionally through voting fees, but I’m unsure that that will be enough of a revenue stream to offset an extremely expensive trip, so the onus will be on whoever wins the race to set new records in terms of fundraising ability.1 There’s also the risk that fans concerned about the potential cost to the fund might vote to Hold Over Funds, which would be a great shame in many ways.

Then there’s the voting itself. If you have a voting period of twenty days, how is the fund going to attract a large number of voters in this race? If the extreme costs of the trip is married to an unusually low-revenue voting period with a low turnout from North American and Australasian fandom, then that’s even worse for the fund financially speaking. Although I’m sure DUFF has the money to weather the storm, it seems unwise to tempt fate by running a race that could be a financial disaster in multiple ways.

If I wanted to run a southward DUFF race before what seems likely to be a northward race to LoneStarCon 3, I’d run it in 20132, and race to the Australian Natcon in 2013, Conflux. This convention will be held in April, which means you could use publicity from the southward race to kickstart the northward one:

  • Southward nominations open — 2012.
  • Southward voting opens — start of January.
  • Southward delegate announced, northward nominations open — February.
  • Northward voting opens — March.
  • Southward trip begins. Delegate publicises northward race — April.
  • Northward delegate announced — May/June.
  • Northward trip begins — Summer.

In conclusion, I don’t see this as a sensible move. I think — whatever the logic behind this extremely small window of opportunity for potential candidates — this is ultimately going to cost DUFF. I think the likely situation on May 11th is that the race cannot go ahead as fewer than two candidates3 have been nominated, and that the whole affair will have just been an opportunity to court criticism and bafflement. And that’s the best case scenario, since the alternative is a delegate who has nowhere near enough time to put together a proper trip and ends up spending a lot of money on what will ultimately be a waste of everyone’s time.

  1. If there was ever a time for Chris for TAFF 2: Chris for DUFF, this could be it — Christopher J. Garcia was very good at fundraising and awareness boosting in his time as a TAFF administrator, and could well pull it off for DUFF, too. 
  2. So would Ulrika O’Brien, who suggested this. 
  3. The Big Three — TAFF, GUFF and DUFF — require two candidates to stand for a race to go ahead.