Friday, March 13, 2020

Online Convention? Not So Fast ...

Given the COVID-19 hysteria, and especially government moves to limit travel, ban large events, etc., I've heard a number of people suggest that instead of convening in Austin, Texas over Memorial Day weekend, the Libertarian Party should hold its 2020 national convention online.

I'm not against the idea of online conventions in general, or on principle. In fact, I organized and chaired the first (so far as I know) entirely online gavel-to-gavel national convention of a political party in history.

But let's compare that convention and a prospective online Libertarian National Convention.

The Boston Tea Party's 2006 convention ended up having 30 delegates. The Libertarian Party's national conventions have more than a thousand (and an equal number of alternates).

The Boston Tea Party's 2006 convention was conducted ... asynchronously ... via text posting and simple online polling. The Libertarian Party's national conventions, if held online, would more likely take place in real time with extensive use of live video conferencing and frequent, immediate voting.

The Boston Tea Party's original interim bylaws were written with online conventions in mind. The Libertarian Party's bylaws were written for, and have continuously evolved to facilitate, meatspace conventions, and its parliamentary authority, Robert's, is still pretty much stuck in the meatspace paradigm as well.

And even the tiny Boston Tea Party convention had credentialing/voting security problems. For example, we detected individuals creating multiple memberships from the same IP address and trying to cast multiple votes in polls.

Any transition from meatspace to electronic conventions is going to take quite a while to get right, and it's going to depend on meatspace conventions to pass the bylaws/rules changes required to get it right.

Any transition from meatspace to electronic conventions is also going to require careful consideration of what conferencing and voting software to use. LP committees currently use Zoom, which is proprietary and which might, just barely, be able to handle the number of participants in question. The open source offerings I've found so far don't come close to accommodating 1,000+ delegates, and open source software is preferable since you can't really trust code that can onlyy be examined by its seller.

Neither Zoom nor those open source offerings seem to be set up to facilitate secure identification/credentialing of delegates, or secure, verifiable voting. That's just not what they're FOR.

And the bylaws deadline for the convention is the end of August.

Without the bylaws provisions and technical infrastructure already in place, any attempt to move the convention online is almost certain to be a fiasco.

I suggest we muddle through this as best we can. Try to have the convention as planned; if it's just not physically possible, forgo a 2020 convention entirely, let the Libertarian National Committee fill the "vacancies" in the presidential slate, re-boot in 2022, and get to work on how to do online conventions and do them right.

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