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Let’s Change The Way We Elect The OpenStack Board

When the OpenStack Foundation was created in 2012, one key issue was how choose the eight elected directors of the foundation board. After vigorous community debate, there was a decision to choose cumulative voting. In cumulative voting, each individual member of the OpenStack Foundation gets eight votes, which can be cast for multiple people or all be cast for a single candidate.

Some foundation members have expressed concerns that this voting method unfairly discriminates in favor of candidates who represent larger companies, at the expense of candidates who might be very active and respected in the OpenStack community, but lack the backing of a big employer. For example, roughly 70 percent of the votes received by board member Troy Toman, a veteran leader at Rackspace, came from foundation members who also work for Rackspace. The same pattern can be seen in voting for candidates who work for Dell and HP.

To address this concern, the OpenStack board formed an election sub-committee which studied the voting process and results, and explored two alternative ranked-voting options: single transferrable vote (STV) and the Condorcet method. Both of these methods allow members to express whom they would prefer as their first choice, second choice, and so on. This gives everyone a chance to express their preferences but still discourages block voting.

STV is designed to promote proportional representation of representative groups. In Condorcet voting, there is no bias for candidates who work for large employers, yet the method ensures that those who are most favored are those who get elected.

At Rackspace, we support changing the method of electing the board so that it no longer favors candidates from larger companies like ours. We specifically favor Condorcet voting. The Condorcet method is already used in the OpenStack technical committees. It promotes a true meritocracy and favors the candidates who have earned the most respect and good will in the community. Even though it is likely that “Rackspace” candidates may get a lower share of votes, we think that a true meritocracy is best for the community. It is simply a matter of sound governance.

Our interest is in cultivating a healthy community represented by a board that everyone trusts and follows. The OpenStack community can make great strides toward that goal by using Condorcet voting to select the board. We look forward to discussing this issue at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong next week. But we’d like to get the debate going now. Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Van Lindberg.

Van Lindberg has worked professionally as an engineer, as a lawyer, and as an executive. He currently has a dual legal/technical role at Rackspace, and has worked out of both the legal department and the Office of the CTO. In April 2012, the American Bar Association Journal named Van as one of "America's Top 12 Techiest Attorneys."

On the legal side, Van leads Rackspace's Intellectual Property program, directing Rackspace's strategy and policy around patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, and open source matters. Van also heads Rackspace's lobbying efforts relative to patent reform.

On the technical side, Van runs Rackspace's technical leadership corps, known internally as the "TCT." Van also works in technical strategy and ecosystem engagement at Rackspace, identifying emerging technologies, separating out differentiating versus non-differentiating product elements, and using open source strategies to be more competitive.

Previously, Van worked at the law firm of Haynes and Boone, where he wrote "Intellectual Property and Open Source," published by O'Reilly and Associates, and grew an open source practice helping businesses with everything from open source compliance to business strategy.

In addition to Van's open source practice, he did IP transactional work, patent prosecution, litigation, and post-grant actions (ex parte and inter partes reexams/reviews).

Van currently serves as chairman of the board of the Python Software Foundation, on the board of the OpenStack Foundation, and was the first chair of the Docker Governance Advisory Board.

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