The cyber-federalist #10 offers a good history of the origins of the at-large membership so I won't repeat it here. But the highlights of ICANN's unrelenting campaign to make the at-large go away do bear repeating.
- ICANN insiders fought the idea of an elected at-large every step of the way, right from the time that the US Dept. of Commerce forced them to agree to it as a condition of recognition. Representation, Joe Sims argued, was itself a source of instability.
- ICANN, either on purpose or through the incompetence of the person just hired to be its Technical Systems Manger, managed to create a registration system in which a very large number of people who wanted to register were unable to do so.
- ICANN then took the 143,806 survivors of the initial registration gauntlet and began to whittle them down via its authentication process.
- Nevertheless 76,183 people, about half, managed to get registered and to log in at least once to validate their status.
- ICANN impaneled a nominating committee to limit the number of insurgent candidates. As the NAIS report put it "the Committee was basically unaccountable for its decisions and opaque in its process, raising critical questions about the Board-nomination process as a whole". Only a small number of member-nominated write in candidates were allowed. Nevertheless, in both Europe and North America, those candidates beat ICANN's candidates. In Asia, the region with the largest level of registration, the ICANN-nominated candidate won handily. There were so few voters in Africa and Latin America as to call to mind the rotten borough.
- 34,035 voted.
- After the election, ICANN froze the members site to make communication among members much more difficult.
- ICANN made no effort to enable communication between the elected at-large Board members and their constituents.
- Shortly after the at-large election, ICANN told its new members that, sorry, they were not members after all!
It's thus just staggering to read in the latest ALSC report "that there should not be At-Large representation (or that At-Large representation would not be effective or meaningful) without the sustained individual participation that an ALSO [At-Large Supporting Organization] would provide."
ICANN did allow the ALSC to send one message earlier this year to all the initial 143,789 would-be-members. An amazing 5985 opted in despite all the treatment they'd received, but only 1435 completed the ALSC's membership survey. Of these, the real stalwart, run-the-gauntlet types, only two thirds said they would be very likely to register if there was a membership fee.
In short, there was a substantial membership, ICANN turned it off, refused to let anyone communicate with it by email including the people elected to represent it. Now, once bitten, even the most stalwart are twice shy.
But wait, the ALSC feels lonely too: "The level of interest in a self-sustaining membership has not been demonstrated and factors such as the low level of user involvement in the ALSC's work do raise concern." Um, sorry, but once ICANN appointed a body combined of neutrals and people with a track record of opposing an elected at-large, but lacking a single person with a track record of supporting an elected at-large, what was the point? It was not a body destined to give advocates of open, widespread, unconditional, democratic representation a fair hearing...and this latest report fully bears that out. Rig the game, then damn your opponents for not playing.
Anyway, now that its time to have a new election, the ALSC suggests that unless enough people come forward and pay membership dues (to be non-members!) the dearth of individual participation is a reason for ICANN to consider not having elections and just appoint the at-large???
If it adopts this innocent-of-history logic, ICANN would be like the protagonist in the classic definition of chutzpah, the old tale of the child who murders his parents and then says he deserves mercy because he is an orphan.
The hell of it is, there really is a good case for not having at-large elections, but you won't see hide nor hair of it in the ALSC report. As the ALSC notes, elections are expensive, hard to do well, and particularly difficult if you have no idea who the electorate is or should be. But the answer is not simply to dump elections, or replace elected directors with new Board Squatters or some other species of political zombie. The answer is to admit that if elections are impossible, so too is an ICANN that engages in social regulation. ICANN needs to be reformulated, not just to slow the mission creep, but to reverse it. Despite the recent trial balloons coming out of Brussels and Washington, don't hold your breath. The ALSC report looks a lot more like the real thing.
Charming, really charming.