A Guide to the WSFS Business Meeting

Revised by Jared Dashoff, Presiding Officer of the MidAmeriCon II Business Meeting;
Original text by Kevin Standlee

How are Hugo Award categories determined? Who determines how voting works in Site Selection? When can Worldcons raise membership rates?

Worldcon members can find a superficial answer by looking at the WSFS Constitution in the Worldcon Souvenir Guide… but how is the content of the Constitution created or modified?

The Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) is amended and other rules pertaining to Worldcons and WSFS are made by the WSFS Business Meeting. The Business Meeting occurs at each Worldcon, with sessions beginning at 10 am each day, beginning on the second day. Every Attending Member may attend and participate in the Business Meeting. There is no Visitors’ Gallery. If you have an Attending membership for the convention, you are entitled to be at the meeting, which means you can introduce motions, debate proposals, and vote on them. You don’t need to be elected to a council of delegates, board of directors, or anything else. You represent yourself.

Supporting Members can propose business but not attend the Meeting. All proposed business must have at least two sponsors, who can be either Supporting or Attending Members. Of course, a proposal can have more than two sponsors.

The meeting is run by, in descending order: The WSFS Constitution and Standing Rules; such other rules as may be published in advance by the current Committee; the customs and usages of WSFS (including the Resolutions and Rulings of Continuing Effect); and the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised. This ensures that debate is structured and allows for proper consideration of the rights of individuals, minorities (particularly strong minorities, defined as more than one-third of the attendees), majorities (majorities have rights, too), super-majorities (the 2/3 vote required to kill motions or close debate protects against having the meeting’s time wasted), and absentees.

This guide presents some common questions about the Business Meeting with slightly simplified answers.

Are proxies allowed? Can I participate remotely?

Only Attending Members can participate in the Meeting. Proxies are not allowed, nor are any forms of remote participation. You must be present in person to debate, make motions (except items submitted in advance), and vote.

How do I submit a proposal?

Any two or more Attending or Supporting Members can submit business to the meeting. To submit a proposal, send it to businessmeeting@midamericon2.org. You can contact us at that address in advance if you need help crafting your proposal into the correct format.

The deadline for submitting proposals to the 2016 WSFS Business Meeting is August 3, 2016. New proposals after that date will generally not be considered, subject to the provisions of Standing Rule 2.1.

When is the Business Meeting?

There are three (occasionally four) sessions of the WSFS Business Meeting scheduled at each Worldcon. Most years (including this year), they start at 10 am on the second, third, and fourth days of Worldcon. For 2016, sessions will begin at 10 am on Thursday, August 18; Friday, August 19; Saturday, August 20; and possibly Sunday, August 21.

Yes, before noon and against other programming. That’s life. A Worldcon once tried to schedule the Business Meeting at 8:30 am, an idea that was so unpopular that the rules were changed to require that the Meeting never start before 10 am. In 1993, the starting time was changed to noon and screams were also heard for wasting so much valuable Worldcon programming time.

How long is the Business Meeting?

Sessions usually last between 90 minutes and 3 hours. There are occasional breaks.

Where is the meeting being held?

The location of the Business Meeting will be posted here when it is set.

What is a Preliminary Business Meeting and do I have to attend that?

The first session is called the Preliminary Business Meeting, where agenda matters are settled. Debate time is set during this meeting and items may be Postponed Indefinitely or Objected to Consideration. The best way to ensure that a matter sees substantive debate is to attend the Preliminary Business Meeting. Resolutions, but not constitutional amendments, may be debated and voted at the Preliminary Business Meeting, and Reports may also be heard.

What about the other sessions?

The second session is the Main Business Meeting, where substantive debate and votes happen on constitutional amendments. The third session is the Site Selection Business Meeting, where the results of Worldcon Site Selection are announced and any business not resolved on Friday is dealt with. In the unlikely event of insufficient time during the second and third sessions to resolve all pending business, an “overflow” session can be scheduled for the last day of the Worldcon. An overflow session was held in 2015, but that was the first time since 1992. Usually all substantive business (constitutional amendments) is resolved by the end of the second day’s meeting, so the third session is mostly ceremonial, consisting of hearing Site Selection results and the initial presentation from the winning bid, then providing a formal time for the following year’s convention to take questions about their event. Bids for future Worldcons often do presentations as well.

However, if constitutional business is not completed at the Main Business Meeting, most of the Site Selection Business Meeting’s ceremonial business is conducted and, after dealing with Site Selection, the Meeting goes back to work debating and voting on substantive matters.

You mentioned Objection to Consideration and Postpone Indefinitely, what are those?

Object to Consideration (OTC) is the 12-ton block that drops on proposals that are so unpopular that they can’t even muster a 25% vote in favor of discussing them. When an item of new business comes before the Meeting, before there is any debate and before any amendments have been proposed (and stated by the Chair), any member may rise (possibly interrupting other members because OTC has a high “precedence,” or priority in debate) and say, “I object to the consideration of the question.” This motion means, “I think this is such a bad idea that I want us to kill it right here, right now, without debate.” The motion to Object to Consideration is itself undebatable. Furthermore, you can’t start discussing the proposal to which the OTC has been lodged.

Then the Chair asks for a vote indicating who is in favor of considering the question. If 3/4 of the people voting vote against consideration, the original proposal is killed without debate. The person who made the original motion cannot make an opening statement other than what was included with the proposal in writing.

Postpone Indefinitely is a slightly milder procedural motion to kill new proposals. It requires a 2/3 vote to kill a proposal, but it also allows each side (those opposed and those in favor of considering the proposal) two minutes each to make a case for why the proposal should or should not be considered. If the Meeting votes to postpone something indefinitely, it is effectively dead for the remainder of that Worldcon. (It can be re-introduced the next year.)

Note that voting in favor of consideration does not necessarily mean you favor the proposal, but merely means that you favor debating it, whether because you want to hear the makers’ arguments, make your own arguments against the proposal, or offer amendments to change the proposal to something more to your liking.

What is the voting procedure?

Once debate time has ended or a vote to Call the Previous Question passes, the Meeting votes on an issue. We can also, as noted above, vote on procedural motions, such as Call the Previous Question or Move to Adjourn. Voting on non-controversial items is normally done by Unanimous Consent. If the Chair says something like, “Without objection, [X] will be done” it means, “If there is anyone who thinks we need to take an actual vote, say so now.” Unless someone calls out “object” or rises to get the Chair’s attention, he or she will move right along and you’ll lose your chance to say anything at all. Note that you shouldn’t insist on a vote solely for the sake of form; it’s common to let unanimous-consent motions go through on things where you know your side doesn’t have the votes to defeat the proposal.

Instead of an “ayes and noes” voice vote that often leads to people trying to outshout each other, we use an Uncounted Show of Hands, where the chair calls for the affirmative and the negative in turn and the members raise hands to show their support for one side or the other. These shows of hands are not counted. If the result is not conclusive or if enough members call for a “Division” (meaning a counted vote), the Chair will proceed to a counted vote.

Counted votes are usually done by a Standing Serpentine Vote. People in favor of the motion stand and then count off one at a time, starting at the front, moving back and forth across the room, and then back through the room until everyone who wants to vote has done so. When the count gets to you, you call out the next number and sit down. This method generally makes the total quite obvious by the end.

Abstentions are not counted. An abstention is not a vote against a proposal but is actually not a vote at all; it’s the same as if the person were not even in the room. For example, if 200 people are at the Meeting and 30 people vote yes, 10 vote no, and everyone else doesn’t vote at all, the motion passes 30-10, and the fact that there were 160 other people present who didn’t vote doesn’t matter.

Why are there all of these complicated rules?

The rules enable us to examine proposals in a structured format that allows for proper consideration of the rights of everyone. Particularly in large groups, discussion and debate without a structure that is fair generally turns into a free-for-all. Remember that “fair” doesn’t always mean “I get what I personally wanted.” In a deliberative assembly run in a democratic manner, although sometimes you don’t win, you and everyone else have to play by the same rules.

Robert’s Rules of Order Motions Chart Modified for WSFS