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voting and the constitution [Summary]

I imagine that one question has been running through the minds of
people reading the recent debian-vote traffic: "what are these guys
going on about?"  I'm going to attempt to answer that question.

With the various versions of the proposals about changing non-free, we've
run into a problem where different people have different interpretations
about what exactly the constitution says about the DFSG.  A part of this
is that the constitution never explicitly mentions the DFSG, and another
part is that the DFSG has had more to do with the day-to-day operation
of debian than the constitution has.

So, some of the proposals involving the DFSG involve constitutional
amendments, and others do not.

When we look at the constitutional voting procedures, we run into a
similar problem:  different people have different interpretations about
what exactly the constitution says about voting where some some versions
of the proposals involve constitutional amendments and some do not.

If we are going to be very rigorous and polite about this, we should come
up with a strategy for dealing with these ambiguities which avoids, as
much as possible, relying on interpretations of the constitution which
have differing interpretations.

I'm going to try to list and roughly describe these differing
interpretations, and then I'll try to make some observations on how we
might unravel the problems.

[1] DFSG vs. constitution

* Constitution 4.1(5) grants developers the right to issue nontechnical
documents, such as those describing the goals of the constitution, and
the free software license terms that debian must meet.  [Controversy:
it doesn't say anything about retracting pre-existing goals, and the
DFSG predates the constitution.  Some people think that the DFSG should
be treated as equivalent in importance to the constitution.]  [If this is
something the developers can do with a 1:1 or 3:1 vote, that's one thing.
If it's something the developers can't do, then 5.1(4) says that it's
something the leader can do.]

[2] Resolving ambiguous votes

* Constitution A.6(1..4) defines a procedure for resolving the winner
of a ballot, when there's a clear choice.  But, there's a controversy
about what it means in some cases when the choice is less clear.  In one
interpretation, when the choice has certain properties the entire ballot
is invalidated.  In another interpretation, A.6(5) should be used to
resolve those situations.

[3] Combining amendment and final ballots

A.3(3) talks about combining ballots into a single voting message.
These could be multiple amendment ballots or amendment ballot(s) with
the final ballot.  Where there's a final ballot involved, one one
interpretation of A.3(3) involves the creation of extra "potential
final ballots" so that voters can vote as if each of the ammendment
possibilities came about.  Another interpretation involves constructing
a single final ballot which lists all the possible outcomes of the vote.

[4] Votes which mix constitutional amendments and non-constitutional

If A.3(3) allows a single final ballot which lists all the possible
outcomes of the vote, there's a question about what supermajority means in
that context.  Also, if we adopt the principle that, "given a particular
set of amendment ballots, and a set of people who will not change their
mind about what they prefer most, nor propose further amendments the
outcome should be the same no matter what constitutional ballots are
issued", then we might need to amend the constitution add some of the
rules about final ballots to the amendment voting rules (or, we might
need to restrict final ballots to try to avoid this possibility).

                           * * * * *

Presumably, we should modify the constitution to make clear each of
these cases.  We should either flesh out the constitution to make it
clear that how applies to the ambiguous situation, or we should remove
some text to make it clear that it doesn't apply, or we should completely
replace some sections with the new material that we presume doesn't have
its own ambiguities.

How we might temporarily evade these issues, until then:

We could avoid some of these conflicting interpretations if we can come
up with proposals where all potential draft versions of the proposals
are constitutional amendments, or none of them are.  We can avoid others
if we don't allow a final ballot to be voted on at the same time we're
choosing between amendments.

We avoid the DFSG vs. Constitution interpretation conflict if we modify
the constitution to explicitly mention modifying the DFSG, before we
try to tackle that problem.

How we might get this to happen quickly:

Limit debian-vote traffic to: draft proposals (perhaps with included
statements of the underlying rationale), proposed amendments (again,
perhaps with included statements of the underlying rationale) to drafts,
messages announcing sponsorship (again, perhaps with rationale), ballots,
and official announcements about ballots.  Put meta discussion into some
other forum.



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