GLEP 77: Gentoo General Resolution

Author Michał Górny <mgorny@gentoo.org>
Type Standards Track
Status Final
Version 1
Created 2018-06-22
Last modified 2018-07-04
Posting history 2018-06-28
GLEP source glep-0077.rst

Abstract

This GLEP defines the procedure of a ‘general resolution’ that can be used by developers to enforce Council's responsibility towards their electorate. The general resolution can be used to overrule a Council decision or disband the Council with a 2:1 majority vote of all developers.

Motivation

The GLEP 39 metastructure defines the Council as an elected body of Gentoo developer representatives. The Council decides on global issues and handles appeals from disciplinary actions. While the Council should naturally represent their electorate, the metastructure does not define a precise way of exercising this responsibility. [1]

In the past, a few developers have expressed their dissatisfaction with some of the Council decisions. However, the Council members lacked a good way of determining whether those opinions expressed the feelings of the majority of developers, or were limited to a small group. At the same time, disagreeing developers had no way of answering the same question without raising inevitable hostility between developers.

This GLEP aims to introduce a mechanism of a ‘general resolution’ that can be used by developers to override Council decisions, or initiate a vote of no confidence against the Council. This introduces a clear method of expressing and verifying disagreement with the proceedings of the Council at any point during its term.

This mechanism is inspired by the ‘general resolution’ defined by the Debian Constitution [2]. It has been originally suggested by Matthias Maier [3].

Specification

Possible subjects for a general resolution

The general resolution provides for the following possibilities:

  1. Overruling (voiding) any Council decision, provided that:
    1. the Council decision in question is final (i.e. a general resolution can not be used to bypass the Council),
    2. the decision can be made without disclosing any information that is considered confidential (e.g. appeals of disciplinary actions cannot be the subject of a general resolution).
  2. Initiating a vote of no confidence against Council members, resulting in a new Council election.

Formal procedure of a general resolution

The general resolution mechanism is defined as follows:

  1. A Gentoo developer (or a group of Gentoo developers) defines the subject of the general resolution --- the specific motion to void, or other request as defined in the previous section.
  2. The requestor gathers initial support for their proposal. In order for general resolution vote to be possible, the request needs to be supported by N1 developers. Developers second the request by stating their approval along with the subject of the general resolution. This shall happen in text form with an OpenPGP-signed e-mail sent to the original requestor.
  3. Once the signed approvals of N1 developers are collected, the requestor sends a ‘Request for a general resolution’ to the gentoo-project mailing list. The request shall include the subject of the resolution, all signed approvals from the seconding developers, and a rationale for further discussion. The discussion is open for at least two weeks.
  4. The elections project shall confirm that all formal requirements for a general resolution are fulfilled, and shall state a timeline for voting. The voting period shall start no sooner than two weeks after the request, and shall last for two weeks. All active Gentoo developers at the time when the request is published on the mailing list are eligible to vote.
  5. The developers vote on the motion of the general resolution. In order for the motion to pass, it must result in a ratio of positive to negative votes of at least 2:1. Additionally, the number of positive votes must be at least N2.

The developer counts are initially defined as:

  • N1: 2 times the square root of the number of active Gentoo developers,
  • N2: one fourth of active Gentoo developers but no less than N1.

The numbers are not rounded. All quorums are defined as ‘no less than’.

Rationale

Limitations in subject

The main purpose of the general resolution mechanism is to provide a way for developers to overrule Council decisions or to disband the Council whenever necessary. It is not meant to be used as a regular procedure for making decisions. Its limitations and the procedure has been specifically designed to focus on that.

Most notably, only final Council decisions can be overruled via a general resolution. This aims to prevent developers from attempting to bypass the Council and abuse the general resolution as a generic decision-making process. Furthermore, for simplicity the general resolution does not provide means to alter the motion or make a new one --- it only provides for voiding the previously-approved motion.

The general resolution involves a vote of all developers. For this reason, it is essential that all developers know the rationale for the request and have access to all the data. This is why the process involves a public discussion prior to the vote, and why it can't be used for the purposes of cancelling disciplinary actions. If developers believe that the Council is unjustly rejecting disciplinary action appeals, they can request the vote of no confidence.

The alternative option of a vote of no confidence is provided for the case when developers believe that Council members are repeatedly neglecting their duty towards the developers. This option makes it possible to disband the Council mid-term and run a new Council election. If the vote of no confidence passes, the Council members lose their seats immediately and there is no Council until the election finishes.

Limitations in procedure

Since the general resolution requires a vote of all developers, this GLEP provides further procedural restrictions in order to prevent developers from abusing the process to repeatedly call all-developer votes.

Most notably, the general resolution vote can be called only if the required number of developers second the motion first. It is recommended that the initial support is collected via private channels, to avoid creating unnecessary peaks of ‘me too’ traffic on the Gentoo mailing lists. OpenPGP signatures are used to confirm the authenticity of developer support; the signed messages are required to contain the original motion in order to prevent reusing earlier approvals for a new motion.

The minimal number of developers initially supporting the general resolution has been selected to prevent abuse by small groups of developers while making it possible to actually collect support for justified use of general resolution.

The 2:1 majority of votes requirement, as well as quorum, also mean to discourage developers from trying to abuse the process. Since the decisions made this way indicate serious accusations towards the Council members, it is important that they are actually supported by significant population of developers.

The quorum (N2, defined as one fourth of active developers) is intentionally lower than the turnout at the recent Council elections (39% in 2017, 37% in 2016). It is defined in terms of positive votes in order to satisfy the criterium of monotonicity (i.e. prevent ‘no’ votes from helping the motion to pass).

The numbers in practice

Let's assume the developer count to be 200 active developers.

N1 is defined as twice the square root of 200 then which equals approximate 28.3 developers. Therefore, in order to call for general resolution one does need the support of 29 developers. The number does not grow quick with new developers being admitted — it would be 34.6 for 300 developers, 40 for 400 developers.

N2 is defined as one fourth of active developers, and the majority of votes is defined as 2:1. This means that for a motion to pass, it must be approved by at least 50 active developers, with no more than 25 developers actively opposing it. For every developer voting ‘no’ above the 25, at least two developers need to vote ‘yes’ for the motion to pass.

Example procedure of a general resolution

Let's consider the following example. On 2018-02-30 the Council has passed a motion that changed the default init system for Gentoo to systemd. The developer community at large seems to disagree with this decision. The developer community consists of 200 developers.

One of the developers puts forward the following subject:

Void the 2018-02-30 Council decision regarding changing the default init system to systemd.

He finds 28 other developers who disagree with the Council decision, and sends this text to them. They add a cleartext signature to it, and send it back. He adds his own signed subject, and prepares a text file with 29 signed subjects.

At this point, he sends the following mail to gentoo-project:

Dear developer community,

I would like to call for a general resolution regarding the following subject:

Void the 2018-02-30 Council decision regarding changing the default init system to systemd.

I believe this was a very bad decision because ...

He appropriately attaches the signed approvals as a text file to the mail. At this point, the discussion on the topic can begin.

A member of elections project notices the request and starts processing it. First he determines the cutoff date for the vote and creates an appropriate list of eligible developers. He downloads the signed approvals and uses GnuPG to verify all the signatures. Afterwards, he confirms that the keys used match the fingerprints of 29 distinct developers at the cutoff date.

The elections project member sets up vote for the presented subject to start two weeks from the initial mail. He sends a reply to the original post with the schedule and voting instructions.

Once the voting period is over, the elections project collect results. They are as follows:

  • 74 developers voted ‘yes’,
  • 37 developers voted ‘no’,
  • remaining developers either abstained or did not vote.

Firstly, the quorum is verified. In this instance, 50 ‘yes’ votes are required to satisfy the quorum. Since 74 developers have voted ‘yes’, the quorum is satisfied.

Secondly, the ratio is verified. Since 37 developers have voted ‘no’, there needs to be at least 74 ‘yes’. Since exactly 74 developers have voted ‘yes’, the motion passes.

The Council decision is void then. The previous default init system is restored.

Credits

  • Matthias Maier proposed the initial idea and proofread this GLEP thoroughly.
  • Ulrich Müller provided an early review of this GLEP and discovered that the original quorum proposal violated the monotonicity criterion.

References

[1]GLEP 39: An "old-school" metastructure proposal with "boot for being a slacker" (https://www.gentoo.org/glep/glep-0039.html)
[2]Debian Constitution (https://www.debian.org/devel/constitution.en.html)
[3]Matthias Maier, Re: [gentoo-project] Call for agenda items - Council meeting 2018-04-08 (https://archives.gentoo.org/gentoo-project/message/973be0a662b3cc74aa118a1128dcac9e)