At the moment, Sunday mornings at Eastercons have a certain excitement of their own. Just before midday the clans start to gather. The programme stops and crowds of the unconverted head for the bar leaving only the distributors of myriad pieces of paper to gather to decide the fate of the convention, disturbed only by those too drunk to get out of the way in time.
In recent years this event, the bid session, has been getting to be almost academic - there has been only one serious bid and the jokes have been getting rather thin. However, worse is round the corner.
All of a sudden the bid session itself will become irrelevant. A waste of time except as a training ground for future directors of television commercials. Ail the information presented will be old news. You will have seen it before at the last two or three conventions. There will be nothing new. And why? Because Eastercons will go for postal voting.
Increased demand for postal voting is unsurprising really. As travel costs escalate and sites get fewer it becomes less and less practical for fans to move up and down the country with the gay abandon of the past. Attending Speculation in Glasgow this year will cost me more than two hundred pounds in travel and accommodation. It is unlikely that costs in following years will be much cheaper. So why - the argument goes - should I have to put out that kind of money to attend a convention I don't really want to just to vote for a future convention that I will want to?
Perhaps at this point I should make it absolutely clear that I am not talking about Speculation in particular. Any site will have its own set of difficulties that make it difficult for one group or another to get to. In particular Jersey or Northern Ireland. In fact it was when UNIcon won the bid for Unicon X that the possibility of postal voting for Unicons was raised.
From the point of view of the bidding committees postal voting has the advantage that it can overcome any prejudices that arise from the siting of the convention where the bid is held and prevent the hijacking of the Eastercon by special interest groups. Will the members of a southern con vote for a northern one that they are unlikely to be able to get to? Will the members of a convention with a heavy media bias vote for one with a literary theme?
So we open up the franchise beyond the room of the bid presentation. To whom? To everyone with attending membership of the convention where the bid will be held? To supporting members? To members who pay a voting fee as for Worldcon? The last seems unlikely to be popular, especially as we are embarking on this course because of the poverty of fans. The second seems rather hard on the committee of the current convention by making it easier for people to skip out of their convention. So let us adopt the first suggestion. This gives us a nicely defined constituency. When you pay your attending membership you get your chance to vote. Quite easy so far isn't it?
Now it gets harder.
In order to stop people voting more than once we need some kind of ballot paper system. Otherwise how are we to stop some unscrupulous fan from sending a postal ballot and then voting in person? Also we must ensure that day members don't get to vote at all. This puts paid to the idea of a show of hands carrying the day and makes telling far more complex.
We must have a deadline for postal votes. One that makes it possible for the winning bid to be announced at the convention and which allows for the vagaries of the post office without being so far out as to prevent late joiners from taking part in the democratic process.
We must have a deadline for nominations to make sure that voters get to choose between the full range of candidates. This eliminates the legendary committee formed in the bar last night, but its by no means certain that any of these ever existed anyway.
We now have a postal voting system. It probably won't change much anyway. After all how many people would use it? But then how many would have needed to use it for Speculation to have lost?
It is unlikely that committees will be prepared to take the chance that postal voting will not change the final outcome and will tend to address the extended electorate. This will mean publishing information earlier in order to influence votes coming in before the convention. This publication will be done through mailings (inclusions in the current Eastercon's PRs for example and through displays at other conventions.
In order to get the bid information prepared earlier the committee must start work earlier. An Eastercon committee already has a life-span of three years. Any longer and you lose all but the most fanatical conrunners and the pool of possible Eastercon committees dries up. Without a fairly substantial chance of winning committees will not spend a year and a half preparing and publicising bids and competition bites the dust. We are already seeing a situation where Eastercons are being divided up by committees unprepared to bid against each other. Postal voting would provide the final push to make the bid irrelevant. There will be the choice of something or nothing and the prospect of a long advertising campaign to emphasise it. By extending the franchise we destroy it completely.