WASHINGTON (03/10/2000) - The board of the nonprofit group overseeing some of the Internet's key technical functions has opted to hold a direct election of at-large board members, temporarily settling a controversy over the voting process for at-large members.
At a meeting that wrapped up today in Cairo, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided to shift course away from a plan to hold an indirect election for the at-large board members, said Jerry Berman, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
Berman, speaking on a conference call from Cairo, said ICANN instead will elect five of the nine at-large members by Nov. 1 in a direct election to be followed by a six-month period during which the election process will be studied. Plans call for the election of four other at-large board members after the study, Berman said.
Nominees will come from the at-large membership which the board opened up last month with an accompanying Web site where people can sign up. (See "ICANN Lets End Users Become Part of the Process," Feb. 25) In addition, the board also will have a nominating committee that will put up a slate of at-large candidates.
At its Cairo meeting this week, the current ICANN board considered the indirect election option, which would have called for the at-large membership to choose a council, which in turn would have selected nine of the 19 board members. That plan met with opposition last week when the CDT and Common Cause issued a study calling the indirect procedure undemocratic. (See "Study Finds ICANN Vote Plan Full of Problems," March 3.)The notion of choosing at-large ICANN board members is aimed at giving individual Internet users a voice in ICANN proceedings. However, concerns were expressed in Cairo that allowing for the direct election of at-large members could result in unqualified people being placed on the board. Some attendees also questioned the idea of at-large members outright.
But Berman and Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger, who also participated in the conference call, hailed the shift to the direct election compromise, which followed a public comment session yesterday at which many people spoke out against the indirect election procedure, Berman said.
"I think that the consensus of people speaking, and that included NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), business people and international spokespeople, almost universally articulated an echo of the concerns expressed in the Common Cause and CDT report," Berman said. "They expressed their preference for direct elections so the voice of the people would be heard."
Both the CDT and Common Cause applauded the ICANN board for "hearing the voice of the people and deciding to give the people a voice in ICANN management and governance," Berman said. "We are pleased that ICANN has set a democratic course for its governance."
Direct elections will encourage a nominating process, campaigning, legitimacy and accountability, Berman said. He noted, however, that the board expressed trepidation and concern as they made the change, indicating there would be a lot of interest in the study scheduled to take place between the two at-large elections.
ICANN was formed in September 1998 to oversee some Internet technical management functions, including the management of the domain name system (DNS), the allocation of IP (Internet protocol) address space, assigning protocol parameters and managing the root-server system.
The CDT, in Washington, can be reached at +1-202-637-9800 or found on the Web at http://www.cdt.org. Common Cause, based in Washington, can be reached at +1-202-833-1200 or found on the Web at http://www.commoncause.org. ICANN, based in Marina del Rey, California, can be found on the Web at http://www.icann.org/.