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Election begins for ICANN board seats

The first elections for the body in charge of the Net's critical address system open, with stakeholders from the business and nonprofit communities feverishly working to get their candidates picked.

The first elections for the body in charge of the Net's critical address system opened today, with stakeholders from the business and nonprofit communities feverishly working to get their candidates picked.

Up for grabs are three new seats on the board of the influential Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is slowly moving from an appointed structure to an elected one.

"There is a lot of horse-trading going on behind the scenes. Massive coalition-building has to be done," said Brian O'Shaughnessy, spokesman for Network Solutions (NSI), which hopes to see one of its executives installed on the board.

The new positions are slated for terms of three years, two years, and one year. They will all be filled by Friday, and come from a field of 14 candidates. They will be chosen through a complicated process of elimination aimed at ensuring geographic diversity. Today, the three-year seat was on the block, and the list was pared down to five people--the final cut will happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, the remaining candidates will vie for the two-year seat, with the final group running for the one-year seat Friday. Once a geographic area is represented by a seat, all candidates from that area get dropped.

The candidates were nominated through special mailing lists and represent North America, Africa, the Asia Pacific, Europe, and Latin America. On the list are former Rep. Rick White (R-Washington), who has not participated in the debate thus far and works at a Seattle law firm; Don Telage, a senior vice president at NSI; Amadeu Abril i Abril of the Ramon Llull University Law School in Spain; and Alejandro Pisanty of National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Although the outcome of this week's election will be closely watched, it is only the first step toward replacing ICANN's interim 9-person appointed board with an elected 18-member board. The current board members, who represent countries including Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United States, were put in place last year in a closed process that sparked sharp criticism from some quarters and drew the attention of Congress.

The ICANN board votes on important policies, including which companies can sell domain name registrations and how to settle trademark fights over names. In the future it also will decide whether to create more domains, such as ".firm."

The White House backed ICANN last November to kick-start a process to transfer control of the Net's domain name system from the U.S. government to the private sector. For example, ICANN is accrediting global registrars to sell Net names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org" in competition with NSI, which has dominated the market thanks to an exclusive government contract.

How the election works
The election process currently underway is complex. Here's how it works:

Based on its bylaws, ICANN board members will be elected by two factions: so-called supporting organizations and an at-large membership.

ICANN's supporting organizations represent three interest groups: those concerned with the domain name space, technical standards-setting bodies, and entities that maintain Internet protocol addresses, which are numbers assigned to computers on the Net that correspond with every easy-to-remember domain name. The at-large membership will be made up of regular Net users, but that structure will not be in place until next summer.

This week's election is being influenced by some of the most powerful business interests on the Net--those that belong to the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO). The votes are being cast by 19 people who were picked by the constituencies that make up the DNSO, whose members include country code domain name operators; Net firms; ".com," ".org," and ".net" registrars; Net access providers; noncommercial domain name holders; and trademark and intellectual interests.

The process is similar to that found in a parliamentary government. To be elected to one of the seats, a person has to get either a majority endorsement which in this case is ten votes. The Names Council keeps taking online votes until a person gets a majority--with the lowest vote-getter of each round being dropped off the list. In between rounds, people lobby the voters to pick their candidate.

Although the DNSO election is already in full force, reminiscent of the concern surrounding the appointment of the interim board, some complaints arose today regarding how the DNSO candidates were picked.

In a letter to the DNSO secretariat, Ellen Rony, author of the Domain Name Handbook, asked for verification that all candidates were nominated via the designated mailing lists for submission--the so-called General Assembly mailing list, the Announce list, or the list of one of the constituencies of the DNSO.

"It is an easy task to check whether the supporters of these nominees have indeed subscribed to the lists noted above and to certify whether the subscription of each predates their support submission [of the candidate]," Rony wrote. "If this certification is not made, the results of the first election to the ICANN board will be suspect and anchored in controversy."

According to ICANN, participants in these mailing lists must "have a knowledge of and an interest in issues pertaining to the areas for which the DNSO has primary responsibility, and who are willing to contribute time, effort, and expertise to the work of the DNSO, including work item proposal and development, discussion of work items, draft document preparation, a participation in research, and drafting committees and working groups."