Friday, June 05, 2015

The Election Process and the new PSF Election Administrator


As those of you who have been following recent events in the PSF know, there were some difficulties and disagreements surrounding the election for the 2015-2016 Board of Directors. The initial attempt at an election for Board members was cancelled due ambiguity concerning candidate nomination deadlines. 
Then, as possible solutions were discussed on the PSF voting members list, it became apparent that there were additional aspects of the previously used system (E-vote) that were considered less than ideal by some members.
The Election Administrator at that time, due to newly undertaken professional commitments, was unavailable to relaunch the election or to modify the procedures to satisfy the desiderata expressed by many. Fortunately, Ian Cordasco agreed to step into the position, and he has been hard at work since the beginning of May getting the recently completed election back on track and exploring long term solutions to newly identified problems.
Already some important changes have been made: First of all, with the hard work of the Board of Directors and many volunteers, a precise and unambiguous deadline was set for nominations, for the issuing and for the receipt of ballots for both the Board election and the Sponsor election (See New Board Election.) That election has been successfully conducted and we have a new Board of Directors (and some new sponsors) as a result. (See Congratulations.)
Secondly, an Elections Working Group was formed to study the desirability of an enhancement to the E-vote software developed by Massimo DiPierro and David Mertz that had been used by the PSF for the past several years. An alternative solution, switching to another system like Helios, is also being explored. For those who wish to participate in this discussion and/or to contribute to this important evaluative study, please subscribe to
I recently had an email chat with Ian about his new role which I’d like to share with you:

Q: Why did you get involved?

Ian: There was a lot of conflict over the last Board Election. Unnecessary conflict is something I really don’t want to see in the Python community, so I stepped up to attempt to deescalate the situation.

Q: What is your background/interest as election administration?

Ian: I have no background in running elections. The software is intriguing to me. The way of verifying votes and ensuring anonymity is also intriguing.

Q: What are some of your goals as election administrator?

Ian: To run elections well and improve the software we use to run our elections.

Q: What are the criteria for a good election process?

Ian: This list is probably incomplete, but,
  • User friendly: The nomination process should be easy as should voting.
  • Transparent and Verifiable: Nominations and votes should be verifiable by any one observing the election.
  • Secure: It’s unlikely someone might try to attack a PSF election, but users should know that their votes aren’t being altered when casting them and that the ballot they received was correct.
  • Well documented: Voters and candidates should know the schedule. The software should be well documented for all involved - candidates, voters, and election administrators alike.
  • Cooperative: I have the great pleasure of coordinating with Ewa Jodlowska who helps in the election process. Massimo DiPierro and David Mertz have been very helpful in learning and navigating E-Vote.This whole process would have been a lot more stressful if not for their help and support.

Q: I understand that recent election yielded a tie in the number of votes for the eleventh Director’s seat. How was that resolved?

Ian: I spoke with David and in the past, ties have been broken with code such as:
if random.random() < 0.5:
    print('Candidate A')
    print('Candidate B')
So in following with that, I ran that code and came up with the 11th… For some amount of verifiability, I recorded the run of that script.

Q: How can we (PSF members) help?

Ian: Join the Elections WG! We’re trying to improve the whole of the PSF elections process. There are a few known issues with the current process. Many hands make light work.
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