Developers tardy on Debian election

update A record low voter turnout -- highlighted by the fact two-thirds of the candidates have not yet cast their ballot -- was yesterday marring the Debian Project's leadership election.

update A record low voter turnout -- highlighted by the fact two-thirds of the candidates have not yet cast their ballot -- was yesterday marring the Debian Project's leadership election.

In an e-mail to Debian's developer community last night, Debian Project secretary Manoj Srivastava said: "At the time of writing, half an hour into the second week [of three] of the vote, we have the lowest participation ever in a Debian project leader election seen so far (ever since we started tracking voting rates)."

The names of four of the six candidates did not appear on the most recent list of those who had voted, dated 28 March at 6:08pm. Anthony Towns and Jonathan Walther were the only candidates to have voted.

The project has tracked voting since 2002, according to Srivastava. According to last night's e-mail, only 199 of 960 active developers had voted -- well down on the 315 who had cast ballots at the same stage last year. The slump has occurred at a time when the number of active developers has risen by 52 from last year.

Srivastava's e-mail -- sent at 10:37am yesterday -- seemed to provoke a response from the Debian community. The number of ballots sent in rose to 225 as at midday today.

Srivastava told ZDNet Australia  this morning there were two possible reasons for the low turnout.

The first was, he said, the prospect that "the divisive debates in the last 12 months about the [Debian] Social Contract, AMD64 in Sarge and the Vancouver Prospectus have disillusioned a number of developers and driven others to apathy". This could mean "the project is coming apart at the seams, the social structure unravel as it fails to meet the stresses of growth".

Debian's Social Contract provides guidelines for the ethical behaviour of the organisation. Srivastava's reference to 'AMD64 in Sarge' refers to an ongoing debate within the community about whether the project should support the AMD64 platform in the next two versions of its Linux distribution, which are code-named Sarge and Etch. The Vancouver prospectus is a proposal by members of Debian's release management team mooted recently which aimed at speeding up the Debian software release process.

However, Srivastava reckons the more likely reason is that voters are spoilt for choice. "This year, we have a strong field, with several strong candidates offering viable options, and with a far better IRC debate between the candidates than has been the norm." In addition, "the platforms of the candidates are well reasoned and sane".

This meant voters were likely "taking their time to work through their choices."

Srivastava conceded however, he had "no real way of knowing" why turnout was low. "The truth may well be a mixture of these opposite scenarios," he said.

The voting process is conducted electronically, with Debian developers required to e-mail in their ballots to a special address. The project stipulates that, to ensure security, the e-mails must be electronically signed with each developer's official public key--a key that is known in the Debian keyring. Software such as GPG or PGP is used for this process.