The countdown begins
It's that time of year again: the annual Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) elections are almost upon us, and election fever is intensifying. ArbCom is the final stage of Wikipedia's dispute-resolution process, and the arbitrators are typically experienced and respected editors. The 2010 election will select as many as 11 new arbitrators, whose terms will start on 1 January 2011. Interested editors are welcome to join the team of volunteer coordinators; their responsibilities are set out here.
To become an arbitrator is to take on a high-profile role, and history shows that the personal stamina and confidence of the Committee's members are important if it is to serve the community well. Among other things, arbitrators require the ability to analyse written evidence in relation to the pillars, policies, and guidelines concerning editors' behaviour, and the ability to distinguish relevant from irrelevant evidence. Arbitrators need to be able to write clear, concise English, and to be familiar with the principles of conflict of interest and neutrality.
Many Wikipedians regard it desirable that the Committee have a range of skills and backgrounds among its members. Other skills that may be relevant, although by no means essential, are the ability to draft decisions, motions and injunctions, and to contribute to the organisation of the Committee's processes.
Editors who believe they have what it takes are urged to consider running for election. Nomination is open to any editor in good standing over the age of 18, who is of legal age in their place of residence, and who has made at least 1,000 mainspace edits before the opening of the nomination period. Candidates are not required to be administrators or to have any other special permissions.
Stages of the election
The SecurePoll interface, to be used as the polling mechanism for the election, presents voters with three radio buttons for each candidate, with the default set at "Neutral".
- Call for nominations: Prospective candidates will officially be invited to stand on Sunday 14 November with the opening of a 10-day nomination period. Candidates nominate themselves, and create a candidate profile made up of a statement of up to 400 words and their responses to the "general" questions. Below these general questions, each eligible voter may ask one "individual" question of each candidate, up to 75 words in length. These arrangements are to avoid a repetition of the widespread complaints by voters in previous elections that the number of questions spiralled out of control and did not assist their decision-making. Editors are, of course, free to ask any number of questions on candidates' user and election talk pages, which will be open to community discussion. Nominations will close on 23 November.
- The voting period: After nominations close, there will be a two-day fallow period for discussion, for candidates to complete their responses to questions, and to allow for the management of technical issues. The 10-day voting period will start on Friday 26 November and will close at the end of Sunday 5 December. Voting will be via the SecurePoll extension, as for last year's election. Individual questions and discussion are welcome right through the process until the close of voting on 5 December.
- Results, certification and announcement: The tally will be posted and certified on the election page by the scrutineers—stewards whose home wiki is not the English Wikipedia. This is expected to take up to a week after the close of voting. Jimbo Wales will formally announce the appointments within a few days of the scrutineers' announcement.
A Request for Comment was opened by MuZemike on 24 October, to determine community attitudes to the voting procedures. The proposals that attracted most debate were:
- that secret ballots (i.e. the SecurePoll interface) be used, or that open voting be reinstated;
- that straight support/neutral oppose voting be retained, or that some form of proportional representation (i.e. the Schulze method, Condorcet method or single transferable vote) be used in its stead.
- that last-minute withdrawals by candidates should be disallowed;
- that appointees must gain a ranking percentage of at least 50% and that seats should remain vacant if insufficient candidates satisfy this requirement;
- that a "none of the above" ballot option be provided;
- that the parameters for the 2011 election be left unsettled for the time being.
The discussion featured several other proposals that gained negligible support.
The RFC was closed on 3 November by an uninvolved administrator, Llywrch, who concluded on the main point of contention that there was consensus to retain secret ballots and the SecurePoll interface (a proposal to this effect by Will Beback attracted the support of 85 editors). However, this judgement came with two qualifications. The closing admin noted that even if support for using the Schulze method had been overwhelming, it would not be feasible to implement it due to software limitations. Secondly, Llywrch found that "[t]he argument supporting open & transparent discussions about the different candidates are compelling", and recommended that such discussions be facilitated.
Llywrch noted that two other proposals "failed to gather anywhere near the support that the secret ballot proposal did", but that they nevertheless ought to be treated as "non-binding suggestions". While most statements in the RfC generated discussion on the talkpage, the debates on these two were particularly intense. The first, a proposal by Neutron supported by 35 editors, was that candidates ought not to be allowed to withdraw from the election once voting has begun, and that their results be "reported along with all other candidates." The second such proposal, by Risker with the support of 31 editors, stipulated that in order to be appointed to ArbCom, candidates must have self-nominated in the most recent election and received more support than opposition. The closing admin in recommending that Risker's proposal be non-binding, noted that this "gives Jimmy Wales carte blanche to appoint anyone he wants to this empty seat. Do we want him to appoint someone people voted for, or for anyone else who has an account who strikes his fancy?" Wales issued a response on the considerations that motivated the proposal.
The election talk page has seen considerable discussion, particularly over the past week, concerning several matters unaddressed in the RfC. These include: