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To read comments to this article, go here
When do National Bodies get to change a vote on MSOOXML?
Thursday, December 13 2007 @ 02:07 AM EST

Here's something odd. Is this something that needs to be clarified before the February ballot resolution meeting on MSOOXML?

The FAQ that Alex Brown published about the MSOOXML ballot resolution meeting tells us that National Bodies have 30 days after the February meeting to change a vote:

5.2 How long will NBs have after the meeting to inform ITTF of a changed vote?
If a NB wishes to modify its vote from that of the 2 September ballot, it must inform ITTF *within 30 days of the end of the BRM*. At this time, ITTF will re-tally the votes and the fate of DIS 29500 will be decided.

I read that as saying that delegates attend the meeting, and then they go home and talk things over as a group, and if the group decides it wishes to change its country's vote, it has 30 days to do so.

However, if you visit ISO/IEC's JTC 1/SC 34 - Document Description and Processing Languages page, it seems to say a country can change its vote at the meeting itself. And later wording in the FAQ seems to confirm that understanding, as I'll show you. But we're also hearing that there may not be room for everyone to fit into the room booked for the meeting. So, I'm seeing a potential for some gaming of the rules. Let me explain, please, what is worrying me.

Here's the rule it lays out, and I've marked the salient points in red:

DIS 29500 BRM:

In regard to the September 2, 2007 JTC 1 ballot on the fast track DIS 29500 based on Ecma 376, the ballot resolution meeting (BRM) is scheduled for the week of February 25-29, 2008 at the International Conference Centre Geneva http://www.cicg.ch/en/index.php. Only representatives of those national bodies who responded to the ballot that closed September 2 are eligible to attend, and, therefore, only those national bodies are permitted to change their registered vote on DIS 29500 with their membership status as recorded in ballot summary. No additional votes can be cast in this matter; P-member/O-member membership status in SC34 is irrelevant to the BRM.

The fast track submitter has agreed to provide a revised specification by January 14, 2008 for all voting national bodies to consider in their review of their original vote. At the end of the BRM national bodies present will indicate if their original vote stands or if they wish to change their original vote; there is no new vote per se on approving the DIS. In accordance with the JTC 1 Directives, the progress of the specification will depend on the revised status of all previously-received votes at the end of the BRM. Registration is accomplished by email to the SC 34 Secretariat Manager before December 11, 2007. National bodies are advised that due to the limited size of the venue there may be some limitations placed on the size of a delegation, regardless of the number of attendees registered by a national body. We will try to establish any attendance limitations before the new year based on advance registration. Observers, press and national bodies not voting in the September 2, 2007 ballot are prohibited from attending the BRM.

I read that as saying that the NBs go to the meeting and *at the end of the meeting*, they say if they wish to change their vote or not. The Brown FAQ also says that votes can be taken at the meeting, or at least that is how I read this part:

6.8 If votes are taken during the BRM, who votes?
Those present.

6.9 May NBs vote by proxy?
No formal NB proxies are possible at the BRM.

6.10 If a NB expert did not participate in the BRM, may this NB subsequently change their vote?
All ISO/IEC JTC 1 NBs will receive the results of the BRM immediately after the meeting. Upon review of the BRM results, any NB that voted in the 2 September ballot may change their vote, whether or not their expert(s) attended the BRM.

This looks like a recipe for disenfranchisement. If some can't get into the room, now what? With no recording, no observers, no transcripts, and no press to monitor, how would the left-out-of-the-room group know what really happened inside that sealed and super confidential room? On what basis, then, would a non-attending expert or anybody else subsequently change a vote? Based on hearsay?

I am getting more and more concerned about this too-small meeting room. Let's imagine a scenario, how it might work out in real life. Let's imagine that a delegation is deeply divided in its views. Think Hungary in September, for example, as a kind of template. If not everyone from our imaginary delegation can fit into the room, given the space constraints, and about half of them are opposed and half are for the MSOOXML standard proposal, but the head of the delegation is a Microsoft person, how might it play out?

Let's say the National Body voted No originally, or abstained. See where I'm going? Now, let's further imagine that because there will be too many wanting to attend, the National Bodies are told that they need to prune the delegations. Someone has to decide who attends and who gets pruned. Who decides?

What if, just imagining now, the rule is set forth that the head of the delegation gets to make that decision. Now, in our imaginary scenario, the head of our delegation is inclined toward changing the vote to Yes, and as long as we are just imagining, let's say he's willing to play some tricks to make that happen. He has the power to play some games if he gets to decide which of the delegates are let into the room and which are not, don't you think?

So let's say he directs most of the half of the delegation that is opposed into the "no room at the inn" category and most of the "we adore MSOOXML" group are chosen to get in. Of course, they'll fight about that, but rules are rules, and it's his call. And even if they take it to court or whatever, before the dispute is finished playing out in court, the meeting takes place. Let's further imagine that the now highly pro-Microsoft attendees from that country announce *at the February meeting* that they wish to change the country's vote to Yes.

Now what happens?

Can they do so without consulting the rest? Apparently so. At least I don't see anything in the rules that would prevent it. Those left out are informed of the results, I gather. But what can they do about the vote? Anything? It already happened. And note the FAQ says there can be no proxies, so the folks who can't fit in the room are left voiceless, unless I'm missing something, which is certainly always possible. But one thing I am clear on: due process isn't something that happens in the dark.

Does anyone know exactly how this is all supposed to work? Shouldn't everyone know up-front and long before the February meeting precisely what is possible and exactly what to expect and how to change a vote and when and who can do it? Couldn't this be avoided by simply booking a larger room and letting everyone attend who wishes to? Or if that really is impossible and this is the only room in the world where this meeting can be held, isn't it an absolute necessity to have some type of recording or transcription, so that at least the left-out delegates know what happened inside that room? Or at a bare minimum, shouldn't there be rules that forbid a delegation that isn't 100 percent able to fit into the room from voting at the meeting?

Hopefully, there are rules within rules, and I just don't know about them. But do the delegates know? That is what counts.

Of course, it's the countries that voted No or Abstain that Microsoft really wants to have change their votes to Yes, so if I were from any of those countries, I'd definitely want to pay close attention to every detail of the rules, and I would surely want the questions I've raised definitively and authoritatively answered prior to the February meeting.

Here are the countries that voted No in September:

Brazil
Canada
China
Czech Republic
Denmark
Ecuador
France
India
Iran
Ireland
Japan
New Zealand
Norway
Philippines
South Africa
South Korea
Thailand
UK

Here are the countries that abstained, going by the list ISO published on the day of the vote in September:

Argentina
Australia
Belgium
Chile
Finland
Israel
Italy
Luxembourg
Malaysia
Mauritius
Mexico
Netherlands
Peru
Spain
Trinidad/Tobago
Vietnam
Zimbabwe


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