Crisis in the Java Community… could they have used a secret-ballot election?

There is a bit of a crisis in the Java community: the Apache Foundation just resigned its seat on the Java Executive Committee, as did two individual members, Doug Lea and Tim Peierls. From what I understand, the central issue appears to be that Oracle, the new Java “owner” since they acquired Sun Microsystems, is paying lip service to the Java Community while taking the language and, more importantly, its licensing, into the direction they prefer, which doesn’t appear to be very open-source friendly.

That said, I’m not a Java Community expert, so I won’t comment much more on this conflict, other than to say, wait a minute, what’s this from Tim Peierls’s resignation note?

Several of the other EC members expressed their own disappointment while voting Yes. I’m reasonably certain that the bulk of the Yes votes were due to contractual obligations rather than strongly-held principles.

Wait a minute, the Executive Committee votes by public ballot? They’re influenced by contractual obligations? That’s fascinating, and that’s hardly democratic! It means that, even where standards bodies are concerned, the secret ballot might be a very interesting tool.

There are arguments against the secret ballot in this case, of course: maybe the Executive Committee members are representative of the Java Community, and as such they should serve their constituents? Much like legislators, their votes should be public so the community can decide whether or not to reelect them? In that case, contractual obligations to vote a certain way should be strictly disallowed or required to be published along with the vote… To whom are these Executive Committee members accountable? To themselves as well-intentioned guides of the Java community? To the people who elected them? It’s difficult to have it both ways, since one requires a secret ballot, and the other a public ballot.

Maybe the right solution is to publish all comments, but keep the ballots secret? There’s always a chance that a truly hypocritical member would consistently vote differently than their publicly stated opinions, but I’m not sure that risk is worse than the problems the Java Community just faced with what appears to be anything but a democratic vote. In a tough spot like this one, it seems to me that Executive Committee members should be able to vote their conscience without fear of retribution.

(Oh, and if the Java community is looking for a secure voting system, I might have a suggestion.)



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