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TAFF Administration FAQ
(Perpetually Under Construction)

Introduction

David Langford

Becoming a new administrator of the TransAtlantic Fan Fund can be slightly daunting. Although the essence of TAFF -- what it's for and the bare bones of its operation -- continues to be passed down the years in the ballot form, further details of running the fund depend on a sort of oral tradition which has not always been reliable. Let's get some of it written down.

Let's also think of this material as a set of pointers and guidelines, rather a straitjacket to be imposed on all winners. TAFF administrators have varied widely in personal style. Some have suffered crippling attacks of Real Life even before their period in office was over. Some put more stress on TAFF publications (my own bias happened to lie that way) and others on promoting and fund-raising for TAFF at conventions.

Everything here is subject to debate, alteration or the addition of different viewpoints. There are also many gaps: for example, no one has yet written much about organizing finances, bank accounts, etc. Uncredited sections are mine. As this thing grows and sections acquire multiple contributors, short fragments identified by initials are likely to proliferate. (David Langford: DRL. Teresa Nielsen Hayden: TNH.)


Basics

What is expected of a TAFF delegate, besides going on that subsidized trip across the Atlantic, attending a major convention and -- usually -- visiting numerous fans? Typically, and in brief:

You administer two TAFF races, one eastbound and one westbound. Normally the winner of the second of these races will travel in the same direction as your original TAFF trip, and will succeed you as administrator on your side of the ocean. (Note: sometimes the order and timing of races is juggled, most often to ensure that eastbound trips coincide with European Worldcons.)

You raise funds to keep TAFF going, not only by collecting voting fees but by such means as soliciting donations, running or persuading others to run convention, mail-order or net auctions, selling donated material by mail order, producing or persuading others to produce publications for sale in aid of TAFF, and/or -- a promise often made -- writing a trip report on your TAFF journey.

Closely allied to the above, you try to raise TAFF's public profile and prevent it from fading into obscurity. Issuing frequent newsletters keeps the fund visible. At one time there was a tradition -- at least in Britain -- of taking ads in convention programme or souvenir books, but this seems to have fallen prey to the perception that no one reads the programme book.


Publications

TAFF Ballot Form

This is easy enough to prepare, since most of it is based on the previous ballot -- with appropriate changes to the destination, deadline and other dates, candidates' platforms, and (usually) the name and address of one administrator. See historical examples from 1954 to the present.

What the ballot doesn't mention.... The "bond" posted by candidates as an indication of sincerity is currently (2006) £10.00 sterling or US$20.00, and has remained at this level for so long as to be less of a serious commitment than of old. Note that although the ballot's conventional phrase "posted a bond" may suggest some kind of refundable pledge, this sum is simply a required donation to TAFF.

Candidates should have five nominators, three from their own side of the Atlantic and two from the destination side; fannish couples who nominate as a couple are generally treated as a single nominator.

Candidates' platforms are traditionally limited to 100 words, but no one seems fussy about a few words more -- if it goes over about 110 then a hint should be dropped to the candidate about trimming the word count.

TAFF Newsletters

A traditional means of making TAFF visible to its voters and supporters, current and potential. See historical examples on this site.

The newsletter needn't be a full-fledged fanzine, although some impressive specimens have been produced by determined administrators. What's important is that it and each new ballot form should be sent directly to all TAFF's recent benefactors. Relying on TAFF releases to other fanzines and newsletters is unwise ... only the TAFF administrators can be sure of reaching all TAFF's mailing list. Relying wholly on e-mail and posting to Usenet (rec.arts.sf.fandom, uk.people.sf-fans, short bulletins to rec.arts.sf.announce) is also unwise, though a useful supplement to the printed word.

Newsletter titles are up to individual administrators. Including "TAFF" somewhere in the title is traditional and self-explanatory. TAFF Talk was so unexcitingly obvious a title that it was used by three successive UK administrators, with consecutive numbering.

Essential newsletter contents are announcements of forthcoming races (alerting prospective candidates to declare themselves and provide nominations and bond by a given date), announcements that a race has begun (listing candidates and accompanied by ballot forms), announcements of winners and voting breakdowns from just-completed races, and grateful acknowledgement of all support given to TAFF. The list of voters -- though not, of course, their individual votes -- in each race should be published, to reassure everyone that their votes were processed. Other important features: lists of individual and group donors of money and material for sale (with decent enthusiasm shown for exceptional generosity), discreet acknowledgement of contributions by donors who wish to stay anonymous, public thanks for the support of conventions which provide function space for auctions or table space for TAFF sales, a frequent running tally of how the TAFF fund is doing financially on each side of the water, and so on.

Generally there's a tacit division of labour, with the European newsletter listing the European voters, benefactors and local funds while the North American newsletter does the same for America. But both, of course, must carry the announcements of new races and of winners.

The TAFF mailing list should be used to ensure that all voters have their votes acknowledged and hear directly from TAFF who won. They should also automatically receive a ballot form for the next race. These people are the target constituency. Who better to send forms to? Each TAFF mailing list -- naturally there's a North American and a European list -- should be handed down to the next administrator on that side of the ocean, so they know where to send at least their first newsletter and the next ballot. (This is of course distinct from passing on actual voting details, which is Not Done.)

Trip Reports

Selling printed TAFF reports is a traditional fundraising activity. Many past examples, finished and partial, can be found on (or linked from) this site. Some TAFF winners find the task daunting, and feel they can help the fund better by other routes; some have been distracted by real-life problems or fannish controversy leading them to spend the bulk of their administrative efforts on TAFF damage limitation. Nevertheless a record of a TAFF trip is a good thing, a piece of fannish timebinding, and there are added financial incentives:

SCIFI, the Californian convention-running body, still donates a generous $500.00 to TAFF on publication of each collected trip report, if it appears within five years of the trip. The five-year limit was announced by the late Bruce Pelz of SCIFI, in Ansible 147, October 1999: "SCIFI has revised its policy of paying a bounty for published Fan Fund reports. As of 1 Jan 2000 it will pay $500 for trip reports published within 5 years, $100 for reports published beyond 5 years." The $100 for late reports has since been withdrawn: the current SCIFI offer is detailed, along with the definition of a qualifying report, at http://www.scifiinc.org/grants/.

The fan history organization FANAC offers a further $500.00 donation for reports published within five years (originally $100.00; increased to $250.00 in 2006 and to the present level in 2007; all anouncements made by Joe Siclari), and $250 for those appearing after this period of grace. The FANAC bounty also applies to other international fan funds like DUFF and GUFF. Spread the word.


Administering a Race

• Nominations must be received by the administrator, in writing, from the nominator.

This keeps ambiguous conversations from becoming a public embarrassment. One person thinks they've more or less said "You're thinking of standing for TAFF? How nice -- best of luck to you"; the other thinks they've said "Sure, I'd be happy to nominate you". Bad scene. Get it in writing. [TNH] • E-mailed nominations have recently been considered OK by administrators with e-mail, although just in case of hoaxing it's probably best to double-check nominations which don't come from a known e-mail address of the ostensible nominator. (Exercise for the student: why does harrywarner@hotmail.com not ring true?) [DRL]

• Voting deadlines are the dates by which ballots are actually received, not the date they're postmarked.

American fans don't generally need to have this point explained to them; they know the US Post Office's habit of delivering first-class mail two weeks after it was posted. If you use a postmark deadline you either have to keep everyone waiting for two or three weeks past the end of the race (a terrible idea), or announce a winner and pray you don't get another handful of slow-travelling ballots that alter the final outcome. [TNH]

• Nomination deadlines -- although the above generally applies -- may be slightly relaxed if the alternative is having to cancel the TAFF race.

TAFF traditionally doesn't run travesty "races" with one unopposed candidate. A late candidacy which saves the race from cancellation may be welcomed, while there'd be no reason to stretch a point for one which merely adds yet another candidate to a workable slate. But generally it's up to candidates and their nominators to meet the deadline. Administrators should make this easier not by mucking around with deadline dates but by announcing them as far as possible in advance. [DRL]

• Taking votes over the phone, fees to be paid later, is not a good idea.

This has been done a few times, with the best of intentions, but it leads to hard feelings. It gives the appearance of impropriety, which is potentially as damaging as impropriety proper. Remembering to fill out a ballot and mail it in time requires that the voter be mindful of TAFF. It's one of our velvet ropes, though seldom recognized as such. [TNH]

• Leaking information on the current TAFF race's progress is not a good idea.

This has also been done with the best of intentions -- for example, dropping hints in hope of drumming up a few mercy votes for a candidate who looks set to be utterly humiliated. It's arguably within the rules ("Voting is by secret ballot" forbids disclosure of individual voters' choices, not of trends and certainly not of final results), but that appearance of impropriety is hard to avoid. Beware. Incidentally, although it's a tempting time-saver for the thoughtless, the TAFF voter address list passed on to the winner should not consist of the pile of recently counted ballots: administrators are privy to the voting secrets of the races they administer, and no others! [DRL]

Further fragments of administerial advice are solicited.


Verifying Ballots

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Counting and verifying TAFF ballots is neither dramatic nor mysterious.

So, it comes time to count the votes. Ideally you're not doing it at the last possible moment, so you have more than a single evening to resolve any problems and questions that come up.

A good way to start is to sort them out alphabetically by voter. You're going to have to compile an alphabetical list of voters anyway, so you might as well; and it'll flag any duplicate ballots you haven't already spotted. (Fans are quite capable of forgetting that they've already voted and doing it again. If they vote the same way both times, it's not a problem.)

If there are any unsalvageably defective ballots, you separate those out. Generally, the presumption is in favor of a ballot's being counted. But it's completely illegible, or hasn't been filled out and there's no return address on the envelope, or the sender has used it to write out a screed on some unrelated subject while neglecting to do anything that can be interpreted as voting, there's no help for it.

Fandom being what it is, most of the voter names will be more or less familiar to you. That leaves a small number of voters whose names don't ring any bells at all -- possibly because you can't quite make out their names.

At that point you phone up the person listed as a reference and ask whether this is someone they recognize. If they say sure, the guy's been coming to conventions for years, you can go on to ask whether they know the correct spelling of the voter's name. That's good, if you can get it; you'll want it to be recognizable when it appears in the published list. If they say they don't know that person from Adam -- well, the rules are the rules.

And that's all it means: if we don't recognize your name, we're going to ask that person you've listed to vouch for your proper fannish existence. When we were administering TAFF we never had a case where a person we barely recognized was given as a reference, which was just as well; I'd much rather be referred to someone like Bill Bowers.

If a newish fan wanted to vote and didn't know whether someone would be good to give as a reference, my advice would be to ask that person whether they're known to the current TAFF administrators. Is this so complicated?

Anyway, when you're done you know which ballots are going to be counted. After that you count them.


Counting Ballots

TAFF uses a "single transferable vote" system to guarantee a majority winner, though not necessarily a winner with a simple majority (plurality) of voters' first choices. If such a popular candidate exists, though, he or she should be declared winner after the first count. Here's an imaginary example with four candidates innovatively named A, B, C and D. First, verify the ballots as already described. Now ...

1. Examine the first preferences on each side of the ocean.

The first preference on a ballot is the single candidate or other choice with "1" written against it. Some voters may scrawl "X" instead, and this is acceptable as equivalent to "1" if no other choices have been marked in any way.

If you are very lucky, one candidate will have an absolute majority of more than half the votes which express a preference. No Preference means what it says: it's a way of registering enthusiasm and amiably donating a little money to TAFF, but it's not a vote. So, setting aside ballots with No Preference in first place ... let's say there are 200 ballots which express a preference for a candidate or for Hold Over Funds. An absolute majority means more than half the vote: 101 votes. If any candidate has 101 or more votes, he or she wins straight away -- provided, as is overwhelmingly likely, he or she passes the "20% rule" test outlined in the next section. If so, no further eliminations or calculations need be made.

We'll use more realistically complicated figures in the extended example which follows.

2. Apply the 20% rule.

Looking at the first preferences, the North American administrator finds that A has 100 votes, B has 80, C has 60 and D has 25. Also, there are 5 first-place votes for No Preference and 5 for Hold Over Funds. Omitting No Preference, which is a way of not making a choice but simply donating to TAFF, there are 270 ballots with first-place choices. By the 20% rule, 54 first-place North American votes are needed to remain in the balloting. D is eliminated.

The European administrator finds that A has 70 votes, B has 70, C has 50 and D has 10, with 2 No Preference and 5 Hold Over Funds. There are 205 ballots with first-place choices. By the 20% rule, 41 first-place European votes are needed to remain in the balloting. Again, D is eliminated.

Notes.

• D would have been eliminated on the basis of either the North American or European share of first-place votes. As it happens, this candidate was unlucky on both sides of the ocean.

• Hold Over Funds is specifically exempt from the 20% rule (see ballot rules) and so is not eliminated at this stage.

• For the sake of simplicity it has been assumed that no candidates have votes from outside both NA or Europe -- from Australasia, for example. Such votes are not counted as part of the 20% qualifying total, but are treated like other votes below.

• A further complication is that NA votes cast through the European administrator should be counted as part of the NA total for 20% rule purposes; and likewise European votes cast through the NA administrator are counted in the Euro total.

3. Amalgamate the NA and European voting totals.

Now -- with appropriate conferring by phone, fax or e-mail between the NA and Euro administrators -- the totals can be combined. From now on we'll discuss the ballots as though they were in various piles on a virtual table somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

4. Redistribute votes after eliminations.

Four candidates remain on the table: A with 170 first-place votes, B with 150, C with 110 and Hold Over Funds with 10. There is also a pile of 35 ballots with first choice D, who has been eliminated. This is where the transferable vote comes in: voters whose first choice was D can still affect the outcome, because their second choice now comes into play. Cross off the first choice, and ...

It turns out that 10 of D's 35 voters weren't interested in any other outcome, and left their second and further choices blank. 5 more put Hold Over Funds as second. 10 chose B in second place, and 10 chose C. Thus after redistribution, A has 170 votes, B has 160, C has 120 and Hold Over Funds has 15. That's 465 votes. Does any candidate now have an absolute majority of more than half this figure? No: that would need 233 votes. Time for another elimination. Hold Over Funds is now trailing, and gets the chop.

As it turns out, no one has bothered to vote any further preferences in the HOF ballots, so the only effect is to reduce the number of ballots in play to 450. No candidate has the needed 226 votes for an absolute majority. C is trailing and is now eliminated. Cross off the first-place C choices, and also the second-place C choices whose first choice was the already eliminated D ...

Notes.

• Physical "crossing off" is perhaps not necessary, and should anyway consist of a gentle pencil mark rather than an obliterating scribble. The important thing is not to get confused when redistributing a mixture of second choices from C voters and third choices from D voters. In general, redistribution consists of taking the next valid choice, skipping any candidates or options already eliminated.

• If D had had a few more votes, just enough to scrape past the 20% qualification, HOF would in this case have been eliminated first, followed by D.

• If No Preference appears as a second or later choice on a ballot, the ballot should be discarded at that point even if the voter has illogically added further, lower-ranked choices. No Preference in second place or later can only mean: "If the choice(s) above should be eliminated, I have no further interest in who wins."

5. Repeat until one candidate has a simple majority.

Of the 120 ballots in C's pile, let's say that 20 have no more choices listed. 10 list Hold Over Funds in the next place, and 30 (all second choices of C voters) list D -- these choices are skipped since the relevant candidates have been eliminated. Once again, we assume, HOF voters have not made further choices after HOF ... but 20 of the ballots with C in first place and D in second (or vice-versa) have A or B in third place, and now become votes for A or B. The remaining 60 ballots list A or B in second place. This makes 80 of C's ballots to be divided between A, who turns out to get 30 of C's votes, and B, who gets 50.

The state of play: A now has 200 votes and B has 210. B has exceeded the 206 now needed for an absolute majority (i.e. more than half of 410), and after careful checking of all the figures is duly proclaimed the TAFF winner.

Often the count is less complicated than in this example: with only two candidates, the absolute majority is generally attained on the first count. Here's how the process above might be encapsulated in a TAFF newsletter:

          1st count       2nd        3rd         4th
           NA  Euro
Fan A     100   70        170        170         200
Fan B      80   70        160        160         210 winner
Fan C      60   50        120        120 **
Fan D      25   10 *
HOF         5    5         15 **
NP          5    2

Total     275  207

Total
votes for
20% rule  270  205 ***

20% rule
threshold  54   41

*   eliminated (20% rule, both sides)
**  eliminated (trailing candidate)
*** For 20%-rule purposes, No Preference votes and ballots from
outside North America and Europe are not counted.

Total ballots cast: 482.

A possible extra fillip, to save lazy readers some adding-up, would be a third "1st count" column giving the total NA plus Euro vote for each choice: 170, 150, 110, 45, 10, 7.

6. Check and double-check the figures.

In particular, watch for obvious howlers: figures that don't add up, candidates eliminated as trailing in the vote when they should have been dropped under the 20% rule (remember, more than one candidate can fail the 20% test), or a declared winner who lacks a simple majority of the remaining ballots on the table (the only allowable exception here is the very rare case of a tied race).

7. Notify all the candidates as soon as possible.

Once you and your fellow administrator are certain of the result, don't keep the poor candidates in unnecessary suspense. Telephone straight away if possible ... unless the counting is finished at a deeply unsocial hour in a candidate's local time zone. The winner may forgive being woken at 3 a.m. with the glad news; the others could be less keen. But there's no excuse for not sending e-mail!

8. Publish the details ...

... that is, approximately the level of detail in the imaginary results table above.If the winner was determined by an absolute majority in the first round, the elimination columns are omitted and there's no need to mention the 20% rule at all -- the losing candidate(s) have lost in any case, and it's kinder not to draw attention to failures to pass the 20% test.

Voters should be listed in the newsletter which carries the official result announcement, but individual votes remain secret.


The TAFF Trip

Some thoughts about arranging your actual TAFF trip ...

Kate Yule to Ulrika O'Brien: 'I REALLY REALLY LIKE that you put your itinerary in the pre-trip report. It's a small thing, a simple thing, but it does so much: gives us some sense of where the money goes, of what good it does to send someone over, of why people are too busy during the trip to take notes more comprehensible than "Devon. Moose. Angry?" I will be thinking of you over the next few weeks, "Hope Wales survives" and all that, rather than just "Say, somebody won TAFF, didn't they? Wonder if they've been yet."'


Auctions

Pam Wells

Convention auctions are dead easy. Get Alison Scott to arrange them.

Er, seriously, get in touch with the convention you want to hold an auction at, and ask for a timeslot on the programme. Will it be an auction for TAFF alone, or shared with other fan funds? Who will you be working with? Make sure you have at least two auctioneers, one runner and a decent treasurer. Ideally someone who knows the value of the items you're selling to sort the lots would be helpful, too. Advertise in advance of the con that you'd appreciate donations of material for sale, and make sure people know where to deliver it.

Move the auction along at a fast pace, vary the merchandise until you see what the audience is really interested in buying, have a reserve price for items which deserve it (and stick to that), make the banter entertaining, advertise it well in advance, and stop it when it's clear that audience interest is waning (or when you have to vacate the room). A couple of hours should be about right; one is rarely enough.

Ideally, publish the amount you raised in the con newsletter, and thank everyone for coming along. Make it seem as though those who didn't missed out on something; sow the seeds for next time.

Mail auctions can be handled a number of ways. I did mine by having three "rounds" for each set of items, and accepting the highest bid for each on the final closing date. I published descriptions of the 'lots' in an appendix to my newsletters, along with minimum bids for each one. The subsequent newsletter would have a new set of "round one" items plus the "round two" status of last issue's items, and so on. As each round got to the final days before the deadline, I'd allow the keenest bidders to find out from me by phone or mail what the status of their items were. This is all obviously much easier now that e-mail is so widespread. The winner was the highest bidder on the final date, and the final bids for each set of items were also published with my newsletters. (I published 8 newsletters in 2 years, which may be more than some administrators want to do, and is certainly more than is strictly required.)

Mail auctions should only be used for relatively high-ticket items; you can sell any old tat (and personal services too, eh, Alison?) at convention auctions. But including some items of significant value is advisable for maintaining the audience's interest.

A Response from Alison Scott

Most recent auctions in the UK have been "League of Fan Funds" rather than TAFF. We aren't really in a position to have half a dozen different fan fund auctions at a con (or even two, when you consider that it's normal for Eastercon and Novacon to have a book auction and art auction as well.) LFF is a convenient fiction that exists solely for con auctions; following such, interested parties split up the money, completely undemocratically, based on:

a) who appears to need the money;
b) which organisations are putting time and effort into the fan fund auctions. (Primarily, at present, it must be said, these are TAFF and the SF Foundation, and these got the bulk of the money from Novacon, AFAIK, with more money going to TAFF than the SFF and a modest donation to GUFF, which is much less active than TAFF but needs much more money to run trips.)

The timeslot is important too; you want people to be around, not doing anything else, and fairly mellow. 10:30pm Saturday night is probably ideal. After the closing ceremony is not a good choice; people are leaving. Mornings are very bad, you really need Two Pints in System for a good auction.

Note that Americans, on the whole, spend more money on good things that people would actually want, bidding high amounts of money in a good cause. Brits tend to want to get a bargain at auctions, and it can be like extracting blood from the proverbial.

On Pam's "Who will you be working with? Make sure you have at least two auctioneers, one runner and a decent treasurer. Ideally someone who knows the value of the items you're selling to sort the lots would be helpful, too." ...

Two runners at least, because TAFF/LFF is a cash auction, and if it's moving swiftly one's not enough. Also, it must be said, do not let people who are hopeless at auctioning do it. On the other hand, I would pay tribute to the auctioning skills of Pam Wells and Steve Davies, and the accounting skills of Bridget Hardcastle.

On Pam's "A couple of hours should be about right; one is rarely enough." ...

One and a half is probably right.

It's dead useful to have one really big ticket item you can advertise, which will inevitably be sold on a whipround. Head-shavings worked well twice, but we're looking for other similar humiliations. This ups the entertainment value, and you can afford to slow down the proceedings to a snail's pace while you pump up the star item, exactly once per auction.


Money

• An administrator should keep up-to-date records and make the state of the fund as visible as possible, as often as possible, by publishing the amount that he or she holds.

It is far, far easier to keep a cashbook and update its running total each time a TAFF donation arrives, than to put off the evil hour of financial calculation and be confronted with a huge pile of old cheques, grimy memoranda of cash taken at conventions, and miscellaneous coins and banknotes which have now become detached from their context. Publishing the current total shows that you and TAFF's supporters are achieving something. It feels good all round.

• Pay in cheques, or checks, straight away -- after entering them in the records, of course.

This is a courtesy to TAFF benefactors, who just like ordinary people find it tiresome to take account of uncashed cheques for month after month of balancing their bank statements. If you let this duty slide, then before you know what the cheques will have passed their six-month sell-by date and expired; and as you grovel for replacements, you will feel really, really dumb.

• According to the original spirit of TAFF, there is Only One TAFF Fund.

The fact that money is separately held by the North American and European administrators is a matter of mere convenience. We are fans, we dislike banks, and we hate paying conversion charges -- so dollar receipts are routinely kept as dollars, and sterling as sterling. But it's still all one fund, and there's no reason why money shouldn't be moved between the two holdings whenever the convenience for TAFF outweighs the tiresomeness of bank charges: for example, when a trip needs to be paid for and there's not enough money on the new delegate's side of the ocean. We note, darkly, that the only administrator to have made a big thing about the ideological separation of NA and Euro TAFF funds is also the only one in TAFF's long history to have mislaid the latter.

Further fragments of money-handling advice are solicited.


How TAFF's Rules Work

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Consider velvet ropes -- you know, those things they use for line control inside theaters and air terminals. As physical barriers they're completely ineffectual, but that's not the point; they're psychological barriers.

Most of TAFF's rules are like that. They exist to let people know when they're definitely over the line. For instance, we don't have squadrons of field agents checking dates of entry into fandom, so if a known but newish fan thinks they're eligible to vote, we generally take them at their word. If that means a few voters are a month or three short of formal eligibility, there's no great harm in it, and in the meantime fans of six months' or a year's standing are clear on the idea that they can't vote yet. That's good enough.

It is a mistake to get yourself worked up over potential breaches in TAFF's defenses. In almost all cases, the opinion of the community is as much enforcement as you need -- which is good, because it's also as much enforcement as you have.

But suppose you actually do run headlong into an overdramatic worst-case scenario. Let's say that Ogdred Baggs, famous fannish fugghead and Business Meeting pest, decides for his usual semi-random reasons to push some dubious TAFF candidacy at Dragoncon, which has between twelve and fourteen thousand attendees. Even if only a fraction of them vote, that's enough votes to swamp a TAFF election. Let's also take out the first line of defense by saying they've all written "Ogdred Baggs" on the vouch-for line, and that Baggs, who is undeniably known to the administrators, is swearing that every one of them is personally known to him as a fan in good standing

Quelle fromage! What a nightmare! And it's all within the rules!

What do you do? Simple. You disqualify Ogdred Baggs on the grounds that he's obviously attempting to commit a fraud upon TAFF, and you throw out all the votes he's vouched for. You refund the disqualified voters' fees. You do not publish a list of their names. And you announce that you're doing all this in a briefly-worded announcement that you send out to all the fannish news venues as soon as you decide on this course. (Immediately. It's very important.)

Do the TAFF rules say you can do that? Of course not. Can anybody stop you? Not a chance. As a TAFF administrator you're primarily answerable to the public opinion of fandom. Screw up, and you'll hear about it for the rest of your fannish life. But if fandom on the whole agrees that you should have disqualified Baggs and all his vouched-for votes, you'll get away with it. By fannish standards, this is a godlike amount of power. But as long as TAFF keeps electing people who care about fannish opinion, it should be enough to keep the administrators in line.


Behind the Rules

A miscellany of notes on the TAFF ballot rules ...

The 20% rule, like TAFF, is about getting fan communities into contact with each other. It keeps one side from wishing an unknown (and perhaps not sufficiently interactive) candidate upon the other. It also makes it difficult for a fan to win TAFF by pitching his or her fanac entirely to the fans across the water -- the assumption being that if you can't get 20% of your own fandom to vote for you, you're not much of a representative. [TNH]

The Voting Fee tends to be copied from one ballot to the next, without much thought. When should it be increased? Probably whenever the amounts seem to have been seriously eroded by inflation. The 1999 ballot saw the first increase in some years, from the formerly traditional $2 or £1 to $3 or £2. (Earlier, the European minimum was raised from 50p to £1 in 1985 and the NA minimum from $1 to $2 in 19?? ... er, must locate and check some old TAFF ballots.) Administrators have always felt it best to encourage a maximum voter turn-out, rather than deter poorer fans with a more substantial fee.


Discretion and Disclosure

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Disclosure:

TAFF has to operate in full public view. There are a number of reasons for this.

1. TAFF is a mechanism for communicating from fandom to fandom. If you don't make its doings public, you've defeated the purpose of the whole enterprise.

2. Likewise, if TAFF's doings aren't public, it will also be cut off from the fannish good will and participation it needs to survive. Fans are endlessly generous if they feel like TAFF is their thing. The minute they start getting the idea that it's someone else's thing, maybe even a semi-private thing, you've got problems.

3. The public perception or imagination of wrongdoing in the administration of TAFF does at least as much damage as the real thing. Don't just avoid the appearance of wrongdoing. Avoid its precursor, which is the appearance of inappropriate secrecy. Doing business clearly, openly, and with full explanations is your best protection.

4. Fans are a temperamental species, but they find explanations very soothing.

In short, TAFF has to operate in full public view because nothing else works.

Discretion:

While our actions and decisions must be public, the means by which we arrive at them are not always public, nor should they be. There are a number of reasons for this, too.

1. TAFF is a simple mechanism. If everyone understands how it works and what its purpose is, it can be surprisingly robust; but it's vulnerable -- fragile, even -- if it's misunderstood or misused. One of the best ways to stay on top of things is to keep misunderstandings from happening in the first place. That's why administrators wind up explaining the fund, over and over and over again, throughout their terms of service. However, you can take it as given that any snippets of gossip that leak out about TAFF's internal administrative workings are not going to carry with them sufficient explantions for every action, cavil, and quibble involved.

The hardest thing for fandom to understand about TAFF is its simplicity. That's probably the origin of fandom's tendency to attribute nonexistent rules to it: They think there just have to be more rules than there are. And if fans hear about some partially-understood internal administrative procedure, they're as likely as anything to derive a novel "rule" from it. That isn't good.

Note: Inadequately explained administrative actions can have the same effect. That's over on the "full public view" side of things.

2. TAFF races should do honor to the candidates, nominators, and winners, and leave the rest of TAFF's constituency feeling pleased and entertained. However, some of the remarks exchanged by administrators while they're doing their jobs are going to be interpretable as being less than perfectly complimentary to all concerned. This is inevitable. It doesn't mean the administrators have a poor opinion of any of the participants. It's just something that's bound to happen.

3. The second-and third-level effects are a bitch.

Say a US-to-UK race is getting underway, and the prospective candidates are Ferdy, Bonzo, and Lulu. And say the administrators are fretting a bit because they've just heard through the grapevine that Bonzo's reluctantly agreed to step in at the last minute as chair of a major costumers' convention. Bonzo's doing a good deed. He's a good guy. But that costumers' convention is going to be held just a couple of weeks after Eastercon.

This raises all sorts of troublesome questions. Is Bonzo going to have time to run a good race, if all his time is being taken up by the convention? He thinks he can handle both, but the administrators have their doubts; and besides, it would be a shame to waste a strong candidate like Bonzo on a race he couldn't really run. There's also the question of his stamina. TAFF trips are wearing. Is Bonzo going to run himself ragged trying to do pre-con work and run a TAFF race, then start his trip already fried? (As opposed to finishing it that way, which is normal.) And if he manages to do his advance work on the convention, and run the race, and make the trip, and get home just in time to chair the convention, will he not thereafter vanish in a puff of smoke, leaving only a small sad greasy spot on the pavement?

They're all legitimate questions. And though you can say it's Bonzo's call, or it's up to the voters, the fact is that good administrators will discuss the issues with each other and with Bonzo. If he decides to run, they'll be thinking about ways to compensate for the odd circumstances in order to make his trip better and his post-trip administration easier. (They'll be doing the same for Ferdy and Lulu of course, who doubtless have interestingly complicated problems of their own; but right now we're focusing on Bonzo.)

Talking this out with Bonzo is exactly the kind of useful, necessary discussion you want to keep confidential, because all sorts of stupid things will happen if it leaks out as gossip, mutating as it goes:

-- Some of Bonzo's loyal but hotheaded friends will get the impression that you're insulting him, questioning his fitness to run, and will leap to his defense.

-- A couple of creeps with whom Bonzo feuded years ago will send you nasty distasteful notes, congratulating you on sticking it to that jerk Bonzo.

-- A bunch of costumers will decide you're trying to exclude Bonzo from participating in TAFF because he's a costumer. They'll virtually sit down, stick their fingers in their ears, and start singing that perennial favorite, "Na na na na na, we have our fingers in our ears, na na na na na, everyone hates us 'cause we're costumers, na na na na na, you snotty trufans never listen to us, na na na na na, we have our fingers in our ears, na na na na na."

-- Several fans who're old enough to know better will respond by saying "Yes, it's true, costumers aren't really fans and don't deserve to participate in TAFF, and the administrators were right to exclude Bonzo from the ballot." (If you, the administrator, had an Uzi in your hands at that moment, you'd have trouble deciding which to shoot first: the older fans, for saying such an inflammatory, ahistorical, dipshit thing, likewise for saying you'd excluded Bonzo from the ballot when you hadn't; or that unbelievably irritating group of costume fans, who've now added "Aha, we knew it all along, na na na na na" to the round they're singing.)

-- Various fans will get into a contrarian discussion of whether Bonzo wasn't actually excluded from the ballot on account of his being a conrunner. Your protests that Bonzo wasn't excluded from the ballot will go unheard.

-- Another fan who's old enough to know better will circulate a public letter chiding you for cosseting Bonzo (no doubt a human being, he supposes, but still! -- a costumer! and a conrunner, too!) at the expense of the Truly Worthy and Impeccably Fannish Lulu, who has his Entire Approval -- which endorsement, he clearly thinks, should be sufficient to convince the rest of Real Fandom to vote for her.

-- On receiving this letter, Lulu (who's no fool) will announce that she's fannishly ruined, burst into tears, and take to her bed for two solid days, bemoaning her fate and wishing he'd attacked her instead. Afterwards she'll send around wan despairing notes disavowing that public letter, and likewise disavowing any connection, sympathy, agreement, or prior arrangement between herself and its author.

-- Ferdy will send out a nice little fanzine in which he tries to maintain a humorous tone while plaintively reminding everyone that he's in the race too. No one will pay any attention.

(Ferdy's solitary Dark Night of the Fannish Soul will consist of wondering whether he's completely misjudged his standing in fandom, and has only been spared these feuds because he's so insignificant that nobody would even bother to attack him. As the non-response to his fanzine becomes more and more apparent, he'll begin to believe his nominators only nominated him to be nice -- or, worse, were too embarrassed to tell him that he was hopelessly unqualified to run. By the time the race is over he'll have recollected every inadvertent snub or slight he's ever received in fandom, and recast them into a grand theory concerning his own excruciating cluelessness. He won't mention this to anyone. After all, who'd be interested?

(Ferdy will never quite get over this.)

-- A major online conrunning nutbar who believes himself to be the victim of another prominent conrunner, and who mounts nonstop attacks on that conrunner and everyone he thinks is allied with him, will decide that Bonzo is a member of that unholy crew. He'll pitch into Bonzo, flaming like metallic sodium in water. He'll also drag the whole mess into distant venues that have never previously heard of TAFF, where he'll exhort everyone to vote for Lulu instead. As an odd bit of collateral damage, Lulu's name will wind up permanently enshrined in the FAQ of a website devoted to online crazies.

-- Lulu will go back to bed, declaring that she's fafiated and can never show her face in fandom again, and cursing the day she ever heard of TAFF. Ferdy and Bonzo will send her get-well cards. They'll tell her that they, too, rue the day they ever stood for TAFF.

(A philosophical question: Which of the three candidates had the most miserable time?

(The answer: All of them.)

... I could go on. This is only the first few months of what will turn out to be a compound feud lasting several years. I'm making it sound far too amusing, so I'll quit.

I'm making it sound far too amusing because I don't want to think about what it was like being in the middle of the real thing.

Enough of that for now. I really don't want to think about it.

There are reasons for confidentiality. Trust me on this one.


Email List, Advice and Emergencies

Every new TAFF administrator should be invited to join the FanfundAdmin mailing list on Yahoo Groups, a low-traffic list whose members are past and present administrators of all the fan funds. If someone forgets to invite you, ask Ulrika O'Brien or David Langford -- see below.

When awkward TAFF situations arise and the current administrators feel that a more private consultation would be useful before deciding on the way forward ... there is an obvious pool of Wise Old Mentors to hand, being the many past administrators of TAFF. The following is a short list of those who have e-mail and are known to be willing to help and advise. Further names will be added as willingness is confirmed. Requests for inclusion should go to David Langford.

Discussion with past administrators is also traditional when considering changes to any of TAFF's basics, as laid down in the fixed portions of the ballot text. See next section.


Unanswered Questions

• Should there be special provision for cases where every single candidate is immediately eliminated by the 20% rule?

At present, the result is an automatic win for Hold Over Funds. In most cases this would be the "intended" result: for example, a two-candidate race where neither candidate can muster 20% support on each side of the Atlantic suggests the sort of imbalance which the rule was set up to prevent. But in races with four or more candidates (TAFF has known as many as eight, in 1956 and 1957), especially when they are well matched, the application of the rule can have more severe effects and could eliminate a reasonably popular winner. There may be a case for reducing the qualifying percentage by some appropriate formula as the number of candidates rises. Another approach would be to apply the 20% rule at different stages of the balloting: for example, apply the rule immediately (as now) with two or three candidates, but use "normal" trailing-candidate elimination to whittle a larger slate down to three before activating the 20% rule. Would psephologists care to comment?
Pro: The 20% rule can be thought of as less fair to large slates of candidates, and its immediate application makes it insensitive to voters' second and later choices.
Con: Either of the above attempts to deal with "hard cases" would mar the simplicity of the voting rules appearing on the ballot, and perhaps lead to more tiresome debate about perceived hidden agendas.
Note: The administrators were slightly disconcerted when counting the ballots in the 1993 race, three of whose four candidates were immediately eliminated by the 20% rule. As it happened, working out transferable votes "the hard way" produced the same winner (as is generally true). But the drastic short-cut solution felt vaguely wrong.

• Should the "write-in" ballot slot be restored?

This former option allowed votes for candidates not appearing on the actual ballot. In general it was used, if at all, as a light-hearted alternative to a "No Preference" vote. However, a substantial write-in campaign during the 1985 race led to much bad feeling (being perceived in some quarters as a attempted jingoistic settling of regional fannish scores, using TAFF as the instrument). The 20% rule was instituted as a direct result. The write-in slot was later dropped from the 1992 ballot by European administrator Pam Wells, following the usual round-robin discussions with TAFF's elders, who are still divided about whether this was a good move. So should it be restored?
Pro: The sole write-in campaign which was felt to endanger the spirit of TAFF did not in fact succeed. Any future attempt to overwhelm TAFF voting with huge numbers of votes from a particular regional fandom would be blocked by the 20% rule unless the write-in candidate were (in keeping with the spirit of TAFF) also popular on the other side of the Atlantic. Moreover, at present the ballot does not prohibit write-ins but merely makes no provision for them. This being so, the decision to disallow quantities of write-in votes added by hand to ballots would be a tough one for the administrators, and quite likely to Plunge All Fandom Into War.
Con: TAFF candidates make certain promises, specifically that if they win they will do their utmost to make the transatlantic trip and attend the host country's convention. It is also understood that the winner administers the fund until replaced. There is natural unease about a mechanism which can potentially hand TAFF to someone who has made no promises and may not even be willing to travel or administer the fund.

• When should a TAFF race be skipped?

There are recurring cycles in fandom. Sometimes energy is copious, transatlantic links feel strong, and a TAFF race will be hotly contested. At other times things are slacker and it's hard to drum up a slate of candidates. Usually there's no reason to insist on holding a TAFF race in slack times -- but often the poor bloody administrator is unable to predict that there'll be a shortage of candidates, or that part of a strong-looking slate will suddenly fade away owing to attacks of second thoughts or real life. Much depends on the climate of fannish opinion surrounding TAFF. Recent administrators have felt it wise to raise TAFF's profile with regular races, to repair any failure of interest caused by administrations that mislaid the funds or were low-key almost to the point of invisibility. When TAFF seems buoyant we needn't be afraid to skip a race if candidates fail to emerge by the announced deadline.

Another reason for postponing a race emerged in 2006, when the destination event -- the 2007 UK Eastercon -- was cancelled at the end of October 2006. Although replacement plans emerged, the uncertainty about there actually being a convention for the TAFF winner to attend led the administrators to announce a postponement until 2008. Shifting the TAFF destination to the UK's second oldest convention, Novacon in November, proved not to be an option because one of the two candidates was unable to travel that late in the year.

• What about that "Bond" figure?

When if ever should the amount of "bond" paid into the fund -- as an indication of each candidate's commitment -- be increased from the current £10/$20? Good question, and one for the current administrators to consider from time to time.