Sunday, March 30, 2008

VFM Networking Party

I hosted a party March 16 for people interested in voter-funded media at UBC, SFU, BCIT, Langara College etc. We can learn from implementing VFM in different ways at different student unions. Media groups can build their brand reputations by linking across schools in various ways: publicizing and reviewing each other’s quality, guest posting, and eventually creating groups that serve multiple democratic communities. The next step for VFM may be municipal politics, which broader coalitions of students and graduates could tackle.

Meanwhile we can eat, drink, chat and relax! Thanks to SFU Instant Blog’s Patrick Lee for this video and review of the party...

… and to UBC Insiders’ Gerald Deo for these photos. Here’s a list of media folks who attended, with links to their blogs & photos:

School/Org Blog/Site Name/PhotoLink Notes
BCIT BCIT PCMA Joseph Landicho In centre of photo
BCIT BCIT PCMA Kris De Luna On left of photo
Diana Filer TV & radio programming; now retired
Langara LSU Arran Walshe
Langara LSU Chris Vincent
Langara VG's LSU Blog Vincent Gornall
SFU Instant Blog Patrick Lee In centre of photo
SFU SFU Politics Xenia Menzies
SFU SFU VFM Brad Coleman
UBC AMS Matthew Naylor 2 years on VFM planning committee
UBC AMS Stephanie Ryan 2 years on VFM planning committee
UBC Devil's Advocate Aaron Palm
UBC Devil's Advocate Eoin O'Dwyer "Eoin" pronounced like "Owen"
UBC Devil's Advocate Stephen McCarthy
UBC Election Erection Kate Webb Now a reporter at The Province
UBC UBC Insiders Gerald Deo Took photos of this event
UBC UBC Insiders Maayan Kreitzman

Let me know if you’d like to attend the next VFM event, whenever that may be…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Year-Round Voter-Funded Media Competition Launched at UBC

Today we are launching the first round of this ongoing VFM competition. Entry period is from now through March 25. Voting will run from March 26 through April 30. Award pool $750: 1st prize $250, 2nd $200, 3rd $150, 4th $100, 5th $50. Entry fee $10. Full details and entry form at

UBC students can now register to vote by emailing their campus-wide login ID to me (email address: ubc[at] Once registered, log in at and click on the VoterMedia Workshop.

We hope this competition will support a diversity of insight on issues important to UBC students, including AMS voting decisions like the upcoming referenda (March 25-31).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Year-Round VFM Approved for UBC

UBC's AMS Council has voted (March 12) to OK the launch of a year-round VFM system, subject to oversight of the Turbo-Democracy Committee. I will fund and administer it. We'll finalize plans and get it going ASAP.

Current proposed design is posted at I’ll post developments there and in this blog, probably by Friday. I’m now proposing an entry fee of $10.

UBC students can register to vote (on a test ballot only for now), by emailing their campus-wide login ID to me (email: ubc[at]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Alexis de Tocqueville biography by Hugh Brogan

French lawyer/politician Alexis de Tocqueville spent 10 months in the USA in 1831-1832 (when he was 26), then wrote his famous book Democracy in America. I’m now enjoying a new (2006) biography of Tocqueville by Hugh Brogan; from page 271:

“… what he had seen in America had convinced him that the prudent and gradual introduction of democratic institutions, which in this way would become part of the habits and opinions of the people … was a real possibility, and he was to spend the rest of his life advocating it; but he could not pretend that he was offering anything more than a hope. And although he would exert his considerable powers of persuasion to convert his readers to that hope, he was well aware that ultimate success or failure lay predominantly with forces outside his control. The convictions, passions and interests that divided France were not going to yield immediately to sweet reason. Hence Tocqueville’s doctrine was for long more honoured in Britain and the United States, where it was not particularly needed (being a rationalization of their actual history and politics) than in France, where it was.
But he never quite gave up hope.”

Then Brogan quotes from Democracy in America:

“It is difficult to induce the people to take part in government; it is still more difficult to supply them with the experience and the beliefs which they lack, but need in order to govern well. The democratic will is volatile; its agents, vulgar; its laws, imperfect. I admit all this.”

I’m looking forward to reading about Tocqueville’s career as a democratic reformer, after publication of his book.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

UBC Year-Round VFM Design

I put this on the web at today:

I invite you to help me (Mark Latham) plan a new VFM system for UBC, that would let students vote funds to media year-round, not just at election time. My proposal is outlined below. You can give me advice on how to improve it by commenting in the VoterMedia blog.

I'll wait for an OK from AMS Council before launching this. I hope UBC students will grow to like this system enough to fund it themselves, and take over running it. To get it started, I'm offering to fund and administer it.

How to Vote: Email your UBC campus-wide login ID to me (email address: ubc[at], wait a few days for processing, then log in at Click on the VoterMedia workshop. Please join now to help test the system!

Contest Schedule: My basic idea is to have monthly awards, but it may be too much to ask students to vote every month. And in summer maybe contest periods should be longer. If we can start by then, I suggest the first contest period to start March 24 (coinciding with referenda voting) and end April 30.

Voters: UBC students. (How about including faculty and staff?)

(Media) Contestants: Open to any person, group or organization, whether affiliated with UBC or not.

Awards: May vary from one contest period to the next. My proposal for March 24 - April 30: $750 total -- 1st prize $250, 2nd $200, 3rd $150, 4th $100, 5th $50.

Contest Entry Fee: I guess an ideal number of contestants is about 10, so would adjust the entry fee to aim for that. For the proposed March 24 - April 30 contest, let me know (email: ubc[at] if you would enter if the entry fee is waived for entrants with websites showing the contest name and a prominent link to this page. If I get no more than 10 replies, then they will get that waiver. If more than 10, maybe we'll make it $10 or $20 (and ask who still wants to enter).

Voting Format: Many designs are possible, but based on extensive discussions with UBC VFM committees, I suggest trying preferential voting. You rank all the media, specifying your 1st choice contestant, 2nd choice contestant etc.

Vote Aggregation Method: Condorcet methods have desirable properties. Free software OpenSTV can handle it. I suggest using its Condorcet option to find the first place winner, then have it ignore that contestant and find the second place winner, etc.

Judging Criteria: Voters are free to evaluate media contestants any way they choose. Media contestants are free to appeal to voters (or not) any way they choose (of course subject to the laws of the land, like libel, copyright, pornography etc.).

I would appreciate advice on any aspects of this project, especially these topics:

1. Voter registration:
It’s cumbersome to ask every voter to email me their campus-wide login ID, but it seems the only practical way for now. It’s technically feasible to add every UBC student to the VoterMedia workshop. But that’s a bit like spamming everyone, and would require some high-level UBC admin permission. If the UBC tech people would implement a self-enrollment option on Vista, that would solve the problem. But my tech admin contact says that probably won’t happen until 2009.

2. Contest schedule:
Is monthly too frequent?

3. Voting structure:
What do you think of preferential voting and a Condorcet method for aggregating?
Also, the ballot for ranking media doesn’t force you to rank them all, so:
- If you rank a contestant more than once, only its highest rank will be counted.
- Any contestants you don't rank will be counted as ranking below those you do rank. (So for example, if you only rank one contestant, it will be counted as ranking above all the others, even if you put it in the lowest rank.)
Any thoughts on this?

4. Awards:
Is five too few?

5. Entry fee:
Is this the best way to manage the number of entrants?