A Look at the New CSM Voting System

CCP released its devblog about the new CSM voting system yesterday. There are four main points to take away:

  • Voting will now use some kind of single transferrable vote (STV) system, although probably not Schulze, as with 28 or more candidates for 14 slots, it's likely to be too computationally intensive.
  • A first pre-election ballot vote happens to determine the candidate list. Candidates must get at least 200 votes in this pre-election to appear on the final ballot.
  • The chairman title will no longer go to the candidate who receives the most votes. Instead, it and all other officer positions will be voted upon by the members of the CSM.
  • The summit attendees will no longer be "top 7 goes"; instead, it will be a "2+5" system, where the top two vote getters go (chosen by re-entering the voting results into the same STV system, but with two slots instead of 14), and the remaining 5 chosen "with CCP and the CSM working together to pick the 5 hardest working and most feature relevant CSMs." In other words, they agree on who has been working hardest and whose expertise is most relevant and those five go. In theory, anyway - CCP could very well make that a unilateral decision.

Early last September, current CSM member Trebor Daehdoow made a thread calling for discussion of voting reform, in which he proposed a modified STV system. One of the goals of that system was, in his own words, to "reduce (but not eliminate) the advantages held by highly organized voting blocs." Needless to say, there was a bit of a furor over his suggestions, which continued largely unabated when CCP Xhagen made his own thread on the topic. The perception that CCP was "out to get blocs" didn't really change, and the winter summit minutes didn't help either - the text of them was easily taken to confirm that assumption.

And yet we're now looking at a more-or-less straight STV system which does very little to inhibit the voting power of organized blocs. Here's how this inevitably plays out. Organized groups conspire within themselves and amongst each other. In nullsec, the CFC votes their candidates in their top slots, and then throws candidates from the HBC, Solar's bloc, etc into their next slots. HBC votes their candidates into the top slots, and then candidates from other blocs into the next slots. And, so on and so forth. I'm sure the wormhole guys will vote all theirs in the top, and lowsec will rally around Marc Scaurus, but nullsec - the largest "bloc" in the game for sure - is going to be doing a lot of cross-voting for sure. Nullsec candidates probably take at least half the seats, wormhole candidates and Marc Scaurus capture another, and the rest are fought over by the unaffiliated candidates... of which there will be many, as 200 votes is only barely a larger barrier to entry (and only barely less gameable) than 100 "likes".

So what does that mean? Well, that depends entirely on how many votes are cast. With an STV system, the threshold will be (Total Votes/15) + 1 to determine a seat. If we use last year's vote count, the threshold for a seat would be 3941 votes; additional votes past that would transfer. If CCP's attempts at increasing turnout are successful, that goes up, if they're not and turnout is actually lower, that goes down. Needless to say, though, without a massive increase in the total votes cast, it isn't difficult to imagine that TEST and Goonswarm alone could effortlessly place two candidates apiece on the council if so inclined, to say nothing of the rest of their respective blocs getting involved. It all adds up to another nullsec-dominated council.

And CCP did it anyway. If their goal was to prevent that, they'd have to have known better themselves. The CSM would have warned them, especially if certain of its members are so anti-bloc voting as some players seem to think. People in the voting discussion threads warned them, though the general reaction to Trebor's explicitly undemocratic proposal was not friendly. And, for that matter, I have it on good authority that past councils warned them as well - voting reform, after all, is not a new topic. And yet, here we are. CCP seems pleased with themselves, and Trebor - one of the most vocal (and supposedly anti-bloc) proponents for voting change, as mentioned before - appears content with this system.

There are two possible conclusions here. The first is that CCP attempted to nullify the power of an organized vote and botched the process. I'm sure many players will choose to believe that. The alternative is that CCP is genuinely trying to create an election process that better represents the demographic that participates in the elections... whether or not that demographic accurately represents the diversity present in the playerbase as a whole.

Y'know, I may have read something to that effect somewhere or another. Maybe their intentions were honest all along!

So, the system is trying to better represent those who vote. Want to be represented in that voting demographic? Get out and vote. "Oh, my candidate won't win anyway" is not an excuse, as now more than ever that is simply not true. Previously less competitive candidates now have the chance to pick up extra "wasted" votes, boosting them to viability.

That's not to say that this is without problems. In fact, it could backfire spectacularly on CCP. As certain players have already pointed out, neither the white paper nor the devblog is perfectly clear on things. Does the pre-election produce a ballot of 28 maximum, or a minimum of 28? (Apparently it's the latter.) While the white paper does clearly spell out that you do not have to fill 14 slots on your ballot, it's buried under six pages of fluff and background; many will not read it. There are also many variations upon the STV counting process, something CCP claims they haven't yet picked. The additional complexity and lack of clarity may well turn players off instead - if CCP wants to increase turnout, they will have to very clearly explain how things work as part of their PR blitz. Only time will tell whether they'll be successful there or not, but one thing's for sure: It's going to be an interesting process to watch.

Seven year veteran & economics guru of EVE Online as well as CSM 8 representative. On the side I play PS2, WOT and Hearthstone.