Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-04-09/Election leaks

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Leak last year likely to produce changes for handling next board election

By Michael Snow, 9 April, 2007

With the next election for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees looming in June, a discussion about administering the election prompted the revelation that in last year's race, election results were leaked while voting was underway. Although the outcome was not affected, this brought into question the appropriateness of the disclosure and how to ensure fairly administered elections in the future.

The issue came up after Lodewijk Gelauff, one of the stewards who handle user access levels on different Wikimedia sites, raised the question of how this year's elections would be run. With the matter of planning for the next election on the table, previous procedures were also revisited. As a consequence, some of the rumors circulating during the last election resurfaced and it became officially known that preliminary election results were released to the board while voting was still ongoing. Angela Beesley, the former trustee whose board seat the election was held to fill, called the situation "a disgrace."

As indicated, rumors about leaked election results were in the air last September in the days leading up to the official announcement of the final results. The Signpost was aware of some of the rumors at the time, but did not have sufficient concrete facts on the record to justify reporting it then. The rumors were fueled when Jimmy Wales took the unusual step of writing to several Wikimedia mailing lists with an endorsement of two candidates, Kat Walsh and Oscar van Dillen. (These two, as it turned out, would finish second and third behind Erik Möller, with whom Wales earlier had some public differences.)

Although others were also publicly endorsing candidates — Möller had a list of people endorsing him, while also identifying several candidates he favored besides himself — Wales's endorsement drew a mixed reception. Some, including David Mestel, criticized this as an unseemly interjection into the election process, a viewpoint Wales also acknowledged. As others like Gerard Meijssen argued, the message may not really have done these candidates a service — for example, Walsh expressed that she was not comfortable with being endorsed in this fashion, whether or not it affected her prospects.

The endorsement seems not to have played a significant role in the outcome, as the order in which these candidates ultimately finished did not change from the leaked preliminary results. Later, with Möller on it, the board decided to add both Walsh and van Dillen as part of the long-awaited expansion of the board.

Now that the information has become public knowledge, Dariusz Siedlecki, one of the election officials, confirmed that a board member did inquire about the results a little more than a week before voting ended, offering a promise not to reveal them. As Siedlecki described the sequence of events, the election officials decided to inform all of the continuing board members, apparently under the impression that they lacked the authority to withhold this information from the board. Wales sent his message the following day.

Details for this year's election have not yet been set, although it appears that some changes will be in store. Developer Tim Starling, who originally wrote the software used to administer Wikimedia board elections, suggested that the vote should be run by an independent group on outside servers, with no possibility of access for volunteers or staff members who might have an emotional stake in the results.


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