The Fedora Project recently held an election to fill four seats on its
governing board. This is the first vote to happen since Red Hat decided to
let the community elect the majority of the board's members. The results
of this vote surprised the Fedora community in a couple of ways, leading to
an extended discussion on how this community should be governing itself -
and whether it can do that at all.
In the end, Tom Callaway, Jesse Keating, and Seth Vidal were elected to the
board for two release cycles, and Jef Spaleta for one cycle. The fifth
elected seat is currently held by Matt Domsch; three of the appointed seats
are currently held by Bill Nottingham, Karsten Wade, and Harald Hoyer. Red
Hat has not yet announced who will be put into the fourth appointed seat.
The newly-elected members are all well-known Fedora contributors who have
done a lot for the project. So why are there questions? It comes down to
- Three of the four representatives elected to the board are employed
by Red Hat. So, while Red Hat has given up its ability to directly
appoint the majority of the board, that board will still be dominated
by Red Hat employees.
- Of the 4069 Fedora community members who were entitled to vote in this
election, only 250 actually turned in ballots. A 6% turnout strikes
many as being somewhat lower than one would expect from a
Though nobody said so directly, some people apparently suspected that Red
Hat employees voted in rather larger numbers than anybody else, and that
they duly elected some of their own to fill the board seats. The truth of
the matter is probably not so simple; what we are seeing is a middle stage
in the Fedora Project's ongoing effort to become a more open,
A few possible reasons for the low turnout were put forward. One had to do
with how the election was conducted. The self-nomination process evidently
does not sit well with some people, who would rather see candidates
nominated by their peers. The range voting mechanism used by the project
seems complex and intimidating - though it still seems simple compared to
the Condorcet scheme employed by Debian. There were also some complaints
that the election was not run in a sufficiently high-profile manner, to the
point that many community members might not have known that an election was
underway at all.
Greg DeKoenigsberg put forward a different
hypothesis to explain why so few people voted:
IMHO, a properly functioning governance body *should* be so
effective that no one cares much either way when it comes time to
replace the membership. From my perspective, low turnout means low
dissatisfaction. All other indicators seem to point to continued
success for Fedora and its contributors...
I myself almost didn't vote. Why? Because I liked the entire
slate of candidates.
In this point of view, everybody is so happy that there's no need to get
involved in the process. There is a contrary
point of view which is also worth considering, though:
What I mean is that almost all Fedora related decisions come out of
Red Hat anyway. The few +1 from community seats during FPB meetings
don't matter, do they? They are just noise.
By this line of reasoning, instead of everybody being happy, the community
is in despair and sees no point in participating in a process which seems
unlikely to change anything.
The truth of the matter is almost certainly somewhere in between. The
Fedora project has clearly opened considerably in recent years, to the
point that it is one of the most transparent and active distributions out
there. The community contributes a lot of work and certainly participates
in discussions about the future of the project. But Red Hat still holds
considerable sway; the fact that it employs a great number of Fedora
developers is, by itself, enough to ensure that.
Red Hat's large presence is also enough to explain the large number of Red
Hat employees elected to the board. Those are the people who have the
luxury of working on Fedora full time; it is not surprising that they
tend to be the most prominent developers in the community. Additionally,
there is a certain tendency for outsiders who become strong community
members to eventually become Red Hat employees as well. Red Hat has been
increasing its investment in Fedora and
hiring a number of people to work on it; the fact that they would be
inclined to hire people who are already doing good work with Fedora should
not be surprising.
So when Fedora developers look at a ballot and think about the names found
there, chances are good that they will vote for the people they have seen
working hard and accomplishing things within the community. And those
people, at this point, are likely to be Red Hat employees. Until a time
comes when other companies find it worthwhile to pay full-time Fedora
developers, this situation is not likely to change much.
The free software community is full of examples of company-dominated
projects. The bulk of these projects are subject to a high degree of
control by the sponsoring company. That is natural; these companies have
specific needs which they expect their development projects to meet.
Making such projects truly open can be hard. Red Hat has gone farther than
many in its efforts to make Fedora open, even if said efforts have come
later than some would like.
Hopefully Red Hat will continue to follow that path, but, to a great
extent, the next steps have to be taken by others. When the investment
into Fedora from outsiders exceeds Red Hat's investment, Red Hat will be
less of a dominant force. Until then, efforts to increase the number of
people voting board elections - while being worthwhile and welcome - are
unlikely to significantly change the results of those elections.
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