SecurePoll updates for the future of Wikimedia elections

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A man pushing a button on a voting machine.

The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Election 2021 is the biggest Board elections held to date. The team who updated SecurePoll for the most diverse Board election tells the story.

Board of Trustees elections have historically been held using SecurePoll – our very own voting software. SecurePoll is a more ancient part of our codebase and has not received much love over the years. The 2018 – 2020 Movement Strategy recommendations include encouraging more diverse candidate participation. The Anti-Harassment Program was tasked with improving the SecurePoll extension. This year, the Anti-Harassment Tools (AHT) team stepped up to get SecurePoll in good shape to handle this election. This included implementing a Single Transferable Vote option in the tool. Over the past six months, the AHT team has spent a considerable amount of time and effort on improving SecurePoll. We have fixed a lot of bugs and introduced several new features. We have also spent a very large chunk of our time talking, thinking and obsessing about voting methods.

Our most impactful accomplishment was to introduce the Single Transferable Vote in SecurePoll. Single Transferable Vote or STV lets voters rank multiple candidates. Ranked balloting allows the transfer of votes. This is to form consensus behind candidates and to avoid the waste of votes prevalent under other voting systems. STV provides approximately proportional representation. This ensures that minority factions have some representation. STV was chosen as the preferred voting method by the Elections Committee.

The Elections Committee and Wikimedia Foundation staff discussed the many ways to put STV in place. They settled with the Droop quota as it is widely used. On the technical side, the decision was made to use Meek’s implementation as it is used fairly extensively by other organizations. This gave us several examples to work with and to test our work. STV is a complicated algorithm. It took longer than we had anticipated to build and test it. There were many quirks and hard questions we had to answer along the way. There’s a guide to how STV works on Meta-wiki which presents a simple example of how STV results are calculated. This is a simplified example and misses some of the complicated nuances of the actual calculation.

STV raking in SecurePoll

Besides implementing STV in SecurePoll, we updated the interface in several places. We added some important security features to prevent abuse of voter data. We improved the tallying functionality and improved the election administration experience. Let’s not forget the many bugs with the tool we also resolved.

As like any technical project, there are always going to be outstanding feature requests and bugs to fix. We have achieved a lot in this round of development and are leaving it in a better place than before. We hope the software is now in a state where it can be used more independently without technical assistance. This opens up the exciting possibility for communities to use SecurePoll in the future for their own elections. 

The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees oversees the Wikimedia Foundation’s operations. This election aims to fill 4 vacant seats on the Board of Trustees. After a three week long Call for Candidates, there are 19 candidates for the 2021 election.

Are you an eligible voter who has not yet voted? Go vote before August 31 at 23:59 UTC!

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