Lots of people have asked what I think about the CSM election changes announced in the blog post last week. And honestly, I really wanted to sit down and think about it before I wrote about it. This is one of those topics where one's first impression is probably going to be wrong. I really wanted to think it through. The result is this horribly long blog post. I apologize in advance. ;-) Ready?
There's four things going on in this dev-blog and I have different feelings about all of them. The four things are:
- There's going to be a primary election before the "main" election;
- the voting system itself is using a "Single Transferable Vote" system;
- CSM8 will be choosing its own officers; and,
- there's a new process for choosing which CSM8 members will be traveling to Iceland for Summits.
First, anyone who wants to vote for me is going to have to vote for me twice. Seriously. The dev-blog specifies that instead of the "likes" mechanic that was used on EVE Online forum announcement posts for CSM7, anyone who wants to run for CSM8 first has to run for CSM8 to see if they're going to be allowed to run for CSM8 and I wish I was joking about this. There will be a primary election and during that primary election, you have to get at least 200 votes to be eligible to run for the "main" CSM8 election.
Granted, I made fun of the "likes" system last year. But this replacement. Oi. This. Is. As dumb as a bag of hammers, and there's really no way of getting around that. Look, I get why CCP wants to do this: they want to narrow the field of candidates a bit to those with a serious chance of winning and in so doing reduce their own workload in terms of checking candidate qualifications. Get that. But there has to be a better way to do it than this, and besides, it strikes me as unnecessary. Last year, there were 40 CSM7 candidates. Know how many didn't get 200 votes? Three.
What makes this step worse are two things, both related to the fact that the only people this step is going to hurt are non-null-sec bloc candidates. Those are going to be the people that have the hardest time marshaling their voters, and then marshaling their voters again when the real thing happens. Null-sec candidates aren't going to have this problem. Second, those are going to be the only candidates that are going to have to worry about whether they get the 200 primary votes or not. From what I hear, there's not going to be any indication in the primary voting system about whether candidates have their "200" or not, so to be on the safe side a lot of non-bloc candidates are going to have to treat the primary like the real thing. This is dumb. Let's move on.
And we're moving on to the STV system. The purpose to this system is to try to ensure that no vote gets wasted. In a typical CSM election, 30% of the votes go to non-winning candidates. This has been very consistent for the last seven elections. STV pulls that 30% into the process. If you end up voting for a non-winning candidate, you can choose a second-choice, third-choice, and so on down to a 14th-choice if you want and in that way virtually ensure that your vote counts for someone. The only way that player's votes will not count under this system is if you somehow manage to vote for 14 people, none of whom gets elected. This is unlikely. And you can reduce the probability of this happening to zero by selecting someone sure to get elected as your last choice. Pick your top five, or your top ten, or whatever, honestly. Then as your #6 or #11 or #14, pick the high profile candidate you dislike the least. If all of your preferred choices get knocked out, at least your vote will apply to someone who you can then pester all year. ;-)
In practice, this system is going to have three downstream effects.
First, it's going to level the playing field for the null-sec blocs. Last year, Goonswarm had an absolutely masterful exit polling system that allowed them to very accurately predict how many votes The Mittani would take out of the CSM7 election process. It was clever, well-done, and worked beautifully: they used it to manage votes through the whole election. Meanwhile, whatever "system" TEST Alliance used to try to do the same last year failed them miserably. This year, all the null-sec blocs are going to have the same advantages Goonswarm had in terms of marshaling their votes to their preferred candidates. You can think of this as a parliamentary sort of system: if you come into the voting process with 3/14 of the total votes in play, you are guaranteed to win 3/14 of the available seats as long as all your voters vote the same slate. And if they vote the same slate in the same order, the one on top will have the best chance of going to Iceland. More on that in a bit.
Second, this system is going to guarantee the null-sec blocs safe seats for every election where this system is used. It's also going to leave independent CSM candidates fighting for the scraps of whatever null-sec leaves behind.
Last year, there were about 60000 votes total, and Mittens famously got 1/6 of them. If the Goons can marshal the same number of votes this year and the number of voters doesn't increase, as long as all their voters vote the same slate, Goons are guaranteed two seats on the CSM. If TEST can do the same thing, they also get two seats. And so on. The only thing that's going to matter in this part of the process is the percentage of the total vote you can get to the voting booth. As long as all your voters vote the same way, you'll get the seats. You can choose a basketball to fill them and it won't matter. A basketball will be on the CSM.
So the only way to change that outcome is going to be to increase the number of voters and CCP has said they're going to try to do that.
My gut instinct is that this means we're going to see two Goon CSM members, two TEST CSM members, two Drone Russian CSM members, one or two N3 CSM members, and one or two wormhole CSM members. If it goes that way -- and there's no reason why it shouldn't -- that's eight or nine CSM seats filled out of fourteen and we only have names for perhaps two of them right now. Unless I've missed it, TEST and the Russians haven't even announced who they're going to run yet, and I believe there's only one announced Goon, mynnna.
It also means that your humble narrator is fighting for one of five or six remaining CSM seats.
Third and finally, this is going to force anyone who wants a CSM seat into a political party. Sure, players with ultra-high name recognition can try to run as true independents and sure, you might get a seat that way. But it's a huge gamble and I can't see it working realistically for just about anyone in New Eden, myself included. That means that every non-bloc CSM candidate is going to have to "fleet up" with at least two or three others and try to convince their voters to vote a slate. The strongest candidate in each "fleet" will have the best chance of getting a seat, drawing support away from weaker candidates in their fleet until they're assured that seat or the entire fleet fails because all of that fleet's votes weren't enough for even one seat. If they do get a seat, then the next-strongest member of each fleet will have a chance, and so on until they run out of votes.
So when I get around to endorsing candidates, you're going to see me essentially trying to convince you to vote not only for me, but for the other candidates I'm endorsing, and in a specific order. This not only increases my chances of getting elected, it increases the chances for one or two other candidates that I endorse. You'll also be seeing me trying to convince those CSM candidates to ask their voters to do the same for me. In short, if I'm the strongest candidate I endorse, I get elected on their backs. If some of them are stronger than me, then they get elected on my back.
That's the system we have now. Overall... I think it's a net positive. But only just barely. And if you don't like political parties, then you'll have good reason not to like it. It sure makes things easy on the null-sec candidates!
Damn, this is a long blog post. Stay with me; I'm almost done.
Third thing in this dev-blog is that CSM8 will be choosing its own officers. That means instead of the Chair of CSM8 automatically being the CSM member with the most votes, the Chair will be the CSM member with the most CSM votes. The other officers will be picked the same way. It's a big deal. In a vacuum, this is a tremendous change and I'm 100% in favor of it. But we're not operating in a vacuum, are we? We're operating in an STV system where the "big blue doughnut" is going to finish out the election possibly -- probably -- holding eight seats out of 14.
Which means that if they choose to, the BBD candidates can pick all the CSM8 officers and leave everyone else out in the cold. Will they do that? In practical terms, almost certainly not. But this voting mechanic combined with the current realities of null-sec space does leave open the possibility of gaming the officer positions. At the very least, it makes it very likely that the chair of CSM8 and the chair of all future CSMs using the STV system will be a null-sec bloc candidate.
The same possibility to game the system also exists for the tickets to Iceland. The dev-blog specifies that seven people will be going to the summits in 2013, and two of them will effectively be the top two vote-getters. In practice, this will probably mean one seat each for the two biggest null-sec blocs. The remaining five seats will be chosen by "CCP and the CSM working together to pick the 5 hardest working and most feature relevant CSMs." In the December Summit Minutes, this possibility was brought up and Hans Jagerblitzen pointedly asked if he was only relevant as a faction warfare feature candidate. He was hurriedly told no, that wasn't the case... and yet here we have "feature relevance" being mentioned again anyway as a criteria for going to Iceland. Guess that means I have to pick "features" that I'm "relevant" about. The sound you just heard were my eyes rolling. ;-)
Now in practice with past CSMs, it's been very very easy to spot the five hardest-working CSM members. It's been the five CSM members that actually do work. Usually on a CSM, you have five or six hard workers and the rest of the group are mostly baggage. That's been pretty consistent in the past CSMs, and CSM7 is no different. It's pretty easy to figure out who the seven that would have gone to Iceland in December would have been. Hint: the group would have gone would have been very different from the one that actually went...
Again in practice, this system can be gamed by the BBD candidates. That said, attempting to game this sytem is unlikely to get anywhere. CCP Xhagen is going to have the final say on who goes to Iceland and I'm quite sure he's going to take a dim view of CSM8 members who try to pack the Summits with only their selected candidates. So I'm not particularly worried about it.
So, to sum up?
- The primary idea: dumb as a bag of hammers. Hopefully, it will die in time for CSM9.
- STV? It's a good thing but it's going to guarantee both safe seats for the null-sec blocs and political parties for everyone else.
- The CSM choosing its own officers? Also a good thing, but given current null-sec politics, it's possible to heavily game the system. Even if it's not gamed, it will be unlikely for any future CSM chair not to be a null-sec bloc candidate.
- And the 2+5 system is a good idea, but let's hope that CCP doesn't invoke that "feature relevance" thing because that's a little silly.