Laser Update: A Questionable Membership Vote

One of the first things we learn with sailing is how to rig our boat. Unfortunately, we may also learn about questionable voting processes!

The international Laser class ILCA launched earlier this month a vote to modifiy one of its internal regulations to allow builders to produce boats under another name, such as the ILCA dinghy, or under the form of generic boats.

This vote has potentially huge commercial implications, as it would in theory allow the two remaining builders - Performance Sailcraft Japan, and Performance Sailcraft Australia - to export boats through dealers in all the regions where LaserPerformance / Velum currently holds the Laser trademarks (Europe, North America, South America, most of Asia, Africa).

With the termination of LaserPerformance as a builder, there is an annual multi-million dollar market at stake for new boats, sails and parts, as LaserPerformance had over a 80% market share globally, prior to its March 2019 termination by the Laser class.

While there are demands, particularly in Europe, for LaserPerformance to be reinstated as a builder and for an agreement to be achieved among the parties to the dispute regarding trademarks, there appears to be firm opposition, from at least one of the two remaining builders as well as within the leadership of the international Laser class, for LaserPerformance to be reinstated as a builder.

This is an extremely serious matter, with plenty of legal issues attached, and the future of the class at stake. For example, ILCA may not survive a legal war against LaserPerformance and may not have the funds to sustain it for a long time any way. Sailors may very soon be unable to buy class-legal Lasers, sails and parts in most regions of the world, including Europe where most of them reside, because of the termination of LaserPerformance.

Some observers point out that the Laser class is on a suicide mission, nothing less.

This is a very serious matter, but is the voting process serious?

As this article shows, the vote is questionable. The election called by the Laser class looks more like an amateurish farce.

Bottom line is that it’s pretty likely that a vote for the Yes to the rule change, even if the required two third majority is reached, could be challenged and invalidated in court.

The only proper course of action for the Laser class, to avoid embarrassment is to cancel that vote immediately - something they are unlikely to do.

Why is this vote not that serious? Let’s have a look at a few key aspects.

1) No Neutral Entity Running or Overseeing the Election

The Laser class ILCA has a vested interest in one outcome, i.e. a vote for the Yes in favor of the class rule change. ILCA is in clear conflict of interest. There were demands for a neutral party to run the vote, or at least to oversee it, but those have been rejected by ILCA.

2) Biased Ballot

A normal ballot in an election lists the several possible votes in a neutral manner. Here, the ballot would need to simply list Yes or No (with the possibility to add an abstention choice). Instead, the online ballot is just a bunch of slogans in favor of the Yes.

The ballot itself reads that one must vote yes “to secure the future of our class and provide certainty to World Sailing that we can meet their new Olympic Classes requirements.”  Voting yes to the class rule “will make sure that our class remains in the Olympics” asserts ILCA on the ballot.  “To secure the future of our class, please … vote “Yes”

These slogans for the Yes can be seriously challenged. The alleged « certainty » that the class remains in the Olympic is clearly questionable in case of a yes vote is one of the most questionable aspects.

The « No » is not offered any space on the ballot to make its case.

The ballot presented to the membership implies that a No vote would be the end of the Laser at the Olympics and an absence of future for the class – nothing less.

Without knowing what is going on, how could anyone vote No in this context?

As argued in the article « Fake Lasers at the 2024 Paris Olympics? », this ballot is biased and unfair, and should never have been put forward as such to the membership.

3) Possibility for Non-Eligible Individuals to Cast Votes

The vote is run on an online application called SurveyMonkey, which is, as its name indicates, geared at running surveys and not at conducting formal votes. Anyone can fill out the form that ILCA has put online on SurveyMonkey. While many people casting votes will actually be Laser sailors who are members of the class, there may also be votes that will originate from people who are not eligible to vote. There may also be people voting multiple times too. How will ILCA control that? And how can ILCA deal with such a situation while it has essentially no time to properly compile the voting results? This would normally take days or even possibly one or two weeks to compile. But as the voting ends on July 31, and the results should be out on August 1 - if World Sailing insists on its deadline, there is no time provided to properly count the votes.

4) Absence of Centralized Membership Database

While the voting for the rule change is centralized on the Survey Monkey interface, the rosters of active members are decentralized, as located at the level of the districts and national Laser associations. It will require time to verify the eligibility / membership status of each of the people casting a vote, and to verify also that there are no double votes, double counting etc.  With a centralized system, and an appropriate professional voting application, it would have been possible to run a poll with proper controls of the membership status of each of those casting a vote. In the absence of a centralized system, it will probably take days or weeks to get an accurate count of the voting. Maybe some districts or national associations don’t have properly kept rosters of members, and that may further complicate matters. How will ILCA deal with such situations?

5) Privacy / Confidentiality Issues

The vote implemented by the ILCA raises privacy and confidentiality issues. Participants in the vote simply fill out a form with a yes or no vote. When the vote results will be compiled, the names and votes for each of those participating will need to be forwarded electronically and to be seen by several people at the district / national association / ILCA level. Without centralized membership system, there is no other way to control the voters’ eligibility. In a European context, is transferring such data with lists of members and their votes GDPR compliant? There are very probably privacy issues at stake.

Contrary to professional voting systems, there is no option for the participants to keep their vote confidential. Everyone at the level of the ILCA can potentially see who has voted for yes, for no. As this is an extremely divisive vote, generating animosity among sailors, and the fact that some ILCA officials or their proxies or surrogates don’t hesitate to be pretty nasty online, the absence of option to vote in a confidential manner is seriously questionable.

7) Access by ILCA to Voting Results Before the Vote Closes

The Survey Monkey application offers the option for those administrating the vote - ILCA in this case - to monitor the vote as it progresses. So from day one, the ILCA leadership, which is in conflict of interest as it seeks to absolutely favor the yes over the no, has access to the results of the votes and related statistics. SurveyMonkey provides very nice charts and stats that can be accessed on your cell phone, as long as you have the access codes of course.

These data and statistics about the ongoing vote are obviously most helpful for the ILCA to implement its campaign for the Yes. Those promoting the No, on the other hand, obviously have no access to the provisional results of the vote. This provides a considerable advantage to ILCA and the Yes - and obviously constitutes a further element demonstrating how questionable and untrustworthy the election is.

8) Technical Possibility for ILCA to Tamper Votes

Except of SurveyMonkey Help Section
Last but not least, one of the most surprising features of the Survey Monkey application, adopted by the Laser class for this most important vote, is for the administrator of the vote - the ILCA in this case - to be able to change votes - nothing less!

With just a few clicks, your No vote could become a Yes vote - and vice-versa. It appears that votes can also be deleted.

The process for tampering votes is very simple and outlined in the screenshot in caption from the SurveyMonkey help section.

Tampering the vote just requires to follow those steps. Go to the Analyze Results section of your survey; Click the Individual Responses tab; Use the left and right arrows to find the response you want to edit.; Click the Edit button in the upper-right corner of the grey box containing the respondent's metadata. The survey will open in a new browser window. Go through each page, editing the answers as needed. And click the Done button on the survey to save the response.

Yes. Tampering the vote results is made real easy on MonkeySurvey, which is obviously a totally unsuitable application for running such an important vote.

This does not mean that ILCA officials would do it, but the temptation could be there, especially if the vote is tight, and it looks like it may be tight given all the efforts the Yes side continues to make to win at this late stage of the voting period. And don't forget, ILCA has access to voting results in real time.

All these elements combined show well this is not a serious election process. It looks more like a somewhat amateurish farce.

Vote May be Invalidated in Case of a Legal Challenge

The Laser class does not seem to have any elaborate bylaws or internal regulations governing membership votes at the international level. There is nothing about this in the Laser class rules or constitution - as published on the ILCA website — http://www.laserinternational.org/

As a result, if there is a legal challenge, compliance with state and federal regulations and jurisprudence in the US regarding non-profit corporations will need to be proven, as ILCA is incorporated in the US and operates out of Texas. Such legal challenges may also originate in other countries.

With such an obviously inappropriate application to run the poll and such bias in the ballot and voting process, it’s hard to believe that the Laser class could successfully defend in court a Yes vote - the No vote being the status quo.

Beyond that, the amateurish and biased approach of the Laser class should simply not be acceptable to anyone - whatever side - Yes or No - is preferred - and Laser class members should not accept such questionable election from the class leadership.

Even those who don’t like, or even hate, LaserPerformance, should not condone such vote.

Of course, World Sailing will be in a difficult position on August 1st, whatever the result of the vote.

By the way, the most popular piece ever from this blog has so far been -- A Sad Day for Sailing — which recounts the controversy surrounding the World Sailing Sarasota annual meeting vote that ended up in excluding the Finn from the Olympics.

Maybe World Sailing will prefer to avoid another voting scandal.

In this 21st Century, people expect fair and professionally organized elections - nothing less.

For the Laser class, the only proper course of action, to avoid further embarrassment, as well as hefty legal bills, is to cancel that class rule vote immediately.

With just days to go before the August 1st deadline, can a consensus solution, which does not require a rule change, still be found?

Technically yes. Especially as the August 1st deadline is not necessarily set in stone and that the World Sailing Board may defer to the Council, in November/December, the tough decisions regarding the Laser.

Even if there may be some more time, the Laser class seems a bit on a suicidal mode, as highlighted in this recent saily.it article “ILCA — Enough is Enough — Let’s Save the Laser.

And to finish on a more humorous note ... rather than renaming the Laser as a « GAMMA » or an « ILCA », wouldn’t « KAMIKAZE » be a more suitable new name? :)

Note: the article has been slightly modified on August 13 following a communication received from a party close to the dispute.

Further Reading

Fake Laser Sailboats at 2024 Paris Olympics?
https://sailinganarchy.com/2019/07/18/fake-lasers-in-the-olympics/

Laser & the Olympics: More and More Drama with World Sailing Deadline Looming
https://optimist-openbic-sailing.blogspot.com/2019/07/laser-olympics-more-and-more-drama-with.html

De Faux Voiliers Laser aux Jeux Olympiques de Paris?
https://optimist-openbic-sailing.blogspot.com/2019/07/de-faux-voiliers-laser-aux-jeux.html

See more articles at:
https://optimist-openbic-sailing.blogspot.com

Editing Survey Responses - Survey Monkey
https://help.surveymonkey.com/articles/en_US/kb/Can-I-edit-a-survey-response

ILCA — Enough is Enough — Let’s Save the Laser - published in saily.it
http://www.saily.it/it/article/ilca-enough-enough-let’s-save-laser
(this article highlights the commercial motivations for the rule change sought the by the Laser class; it also contains a few inaccuracies, including the location of the ILCA youth worlds (in Canada and not Poland) and the majority required to win the vote (two third, and not 50% plus 1 vote)

ILCA Rule Change Ballot
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2019ILCARuleChange
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