Constitution for the Debian Project (v1.0)
The Debian Project is an association of individuals who have
made common cause to create a free operating system.
This document describes the organisational structure for formal
decisionmaking in the Project. It does not describe the goals of
the Project or how it achieves them, or contain any policies
except those directly related to the decisionmaking process.
2. Decisionmaking bodies and individuals
Each decision in the Project is made by one or more of the following:
Most of the remainder of this document will outline the powers of
these bodies, their composition and appointment, and the procedure
for their decisionmaking. The powers of a person or body may be
subject to review and/or limitation by others; in this case the
reviewing body or person's entry will state this. In the
list above, a person or body is usually listed before any people
or bodies whose decisions they can overrule or who they
(help) appoint - but not everyone listed earlier can overrule
everyone listed later.
- The Developers, by way of General Resolution or an election;
- The Project Leader;
- The Technical Committee and/or its Chairman;
- The individual Developer working on a particular task;
- Delegates appointed by the Project Leader for specific
- The Project Secretary;
2.1. General rules
Nothing in this constitution imposes an obligation on anyone
to do work for the Project. A person who does not want to do
a task which has been delegated or assigned to them does not
need to do it. However, they must not actively work against
these rules and decisions properly made under them.
A person may hold several posts, except that the Project Leader,
Project Secretary and the Chairman of the Technical Committee must
be distinct, and that the Leader cannot appoint themselves as
their own Delegate.
A person may leave the Project or resign from a particular
post they hold, at any time, by stating so publicly.
3. Individual Developers
An individual Developer may
- make any technical or nontechnical decision with regard to
their own work;
- propose or sponsor draft General Resolutions;
- propose themselves as a Project Leader candidate in elections;
- vote on General Resolutions and in Leadership elections.
3.2. Composition and appointment
Developers are volunteers who agree to further the aims of the
Project insofar as they participate in it, and who maintain
package(s) for the Project or do other work which the Project
Leader's Delegate(s) consider worthwhile.
The Project Leader's Delegate(s) may choose not to admit new
Developers, or expel existing Developers. If the Developers
feel that the Delegates are abusing their authority they can of
course override the decision by way of General Resolution - see
Developers may make these decisions as they see fit.
4. The Developers by way of General Resolution or election
Together, the Developers may:
Appoint or recall the Project Leader.
Amend this constitution, provided they agree with a 3:1 majority.
Override any decision by the Project Leader or a Delegate.
Override any decision by the Technical Committee,
provided they agree with a 2:1 majority.
Issue nontechnical policy documents and statements.
These include documents describing the goals of the project, its
relationship with other free software entities, and nontechnical
policies such as the free software licence terms that Debian
software must meet.
They may also include position statements about issues of the day.
Together with the Project Leader and SPI, make decisions
about property held in trust for purposes related to Debian.
The Developers follow the Standard Resolution Procedure, below. A
resolution or amendment is introduced if proposed by any Developer
and sponsored by at least K other Developers, or if proposed by the
Project Leader or the Technical Committee.
Delaying a decision by the Project Leader or their Delegate:
If the Project Leader or their Delegate, or the Technical
Committee, has made a decision, then Developers can override
them by passing a resolution to do so; see s4.1(3).
If such a resolution is sponsored by at least 2K Developers, or
if it is proposed by the Technical Committee, the resolution
puts the decision immediately on hold (provided that resolution
itself says so).
If the original decision was to change a discussion period or a
voting period, or the resolution is to override the Technical
Committee, then only K Developers need to sponsor the resolution
to be able to put the decision immediately on hold.
If the decision is put on hold, an immediate vote is held to
determine whether the decision will stand until the full vote on
the decision is made or whether the implementation of the
original decision will be be delayed until then. There is no
quorum for this immediate procedural vote.
If the Project Leader (or the Delegate) withdraws the original
decision, the vote becomes moot, and is no longer conducted.
Votes are taken by the Project Secretary. Votes and tallies
results are not be revealed during the voting period; after the
vote the Project Secretary lists all the votes cast. The voting
period is 2 weeks, but may be varied by up to 1 week by the
Project Leader, and may be ended by the Project Secretary when
the outcome of a vote is no longer in doubt.
The minimum discussion period is 2 weeks, but may be varied by up to 1
week by the Project Leader. The Project Leader has a casting
vote. There is a quorum of 3Q.
Proposals, sponsors, amendments, calls for votes and other formal
actions are made by announcement on a publicly-readable electronic
mailing list designated by the Project Leader's Delegate(s); any
Developer may post there.
Votes are cast by email in a manner suitable to the Secretary.
The Secretary determines for each poll whether voters can change
Q is half of the square root of the number of current
Developers. K is Q or 5, whichever is the smaller. Q and K
need not be integers and are not rounded.
5. Project Leader
The Project Leader may:
- Appoint Delegates or delegate decisions to the Technical
The Leader may define an area of ongoing responsibility or a
specific decision and hand it over to another Developer or
to the Technical Committee.
Once a particular decision has been delegated and made the
Project Leader may not withdraw that delegation; however,
they may withdraw an ongoing delegation of particular area
Lend authority to other Developers.
The Project Leader may make statements of support for points of view
or for other members of the project, when asked or otherwise; these
statements have force if and only if the Leader would be empowered to
make the decision in question.
Make any decision which requires urgent action.
This does not apply to decisions which have only become
gradually urgent through lack of relevant action, unless
there is a fixed deadline.
Make any decision for whom noone else has responsibility.
Propose draft General Resolutions and amendments.
Together with the Technical Committee, appoint new members
to the Committee. (See s.6.2.)
- Use a casting vote when Developers vote.
The Project Leader also has a normal vote in such ballots.
Vary the discussion period for Developers' votes (as above).
Lead discussions amongst Developers.
The Project Leader should attempt to participate in discussions
amongst the Developers in a helpful way which seeks to bring the
discussion to bear on the key issues at hand. The Project Leader
should not use the Leadership position to promote their own personal
Together with SPI, make decisions affecting property
held in trust for purposes related to Debian. (See s.9.1.)
The Project Leader is elected by the Developers.
The election begins nine weeks before the leadership post becomes
vacant, or (if it is too late already) immediately.
For the following three weeks any Developer may nominate themselves as
a candidate Project Leader.
For three weeks after that no more candidates may be nominated;
candidates should use this time for campaigning (to make their
identities and positions known). If there are no candidates
at the end of the nomination period then the nomination period
is extended for three further weeks, repeatedly if necessary.
The next three weeks are the polling period during which
Developers may cast their votes. Votes in leadership
elections are kept secret, even after the election is
The options on the ballot will be those candidates who have
nominated themselves and have not yet withdrawn, plus None Of
The Above. If None Of The Above wins the election then the
election procedure is repeated, many times if necessary.
- The decision will be made using Concorde Vote Counting.
The quorum is the same as for a General Resolution
(s.4.2) and the default option is None Of The Above.
The Project Leader serves for one year from their election.
The Project Leader should attempt to make decisions which are
consistent with the consensus of the opinions of the Developers.
Where practical the Project Leader should informally solicit the views
of the Developers.
The Project Leader should avoid overemphasizing their own point
of view when making decisions in their capacity as Leader.
6. Technical committee
The Technical Committee may:
- Decide on any matter of technical policy.
This includes the contents of the technical policy manuals,
developers' reference materials, example packages and the
behaviour of non-experimental package building tools. (In
each case the usual maintainer of the relevant software or
documentation makes decisions initially, however; see
- Decide any technical matter where Developers' jurisdictions overlap.
In cases where Developers need to implement compatible
technical policies or stances (for example, if they disagree
about the priorities of conflicting packages, or about
ownership of a command name, or about which package is
responsible for a bug that both maintainers agree is a bug,
or about who should be the maintainer for a package) the
technical committee may decide the matter.
Make a decision when asked to do so.
Any person or body may delegate a decision of their own to
the Technical Committee, or seek advice from it.
Overrule a Developer (requires a 3:1 majority).
The Technical Committee may ask a Developer to take a
particular technical course of action even if the Developer
does not wish to; this requires a 3:1 majority. For
example, the Committee may determine that a complaint made
by the submitter of a bug is justified and that the
submitter's proposed solution should be implemented.
The Technical Committee may make formal announcements about
its views on any matter. Individual members may of
course make informal statements about their views and about
the likely views of the committee.
Together with the Project Leader, appoint new members to
itself or remove existing members. (See s.6.2.)
Appoint the Chairman of the Technical Committee.
The Chairman is elected by the Committee from its members.
All members of the committee are automatically nominated;
the committee vote starting one week before the post will
become vacant (or immediately, if it is already too late).
The members may vote by public acclamation for any fellow
committee member, including themselves; there is no None Of
The Above option. The vote finishes when all the members
have voted or when the outcome is no longer in doubt. The
result is determined according to Concorde Vote Counting.
- The Chairman can stand in for the Leader, together with the Secretary
As detailed in s.7.1(2), the Chairman of the Technical
Committee and the Project Secretary may together stand in
for the Leader if there is no Leader.
The Technical Committee consists of up to 8 Developers, and should
usually have at least 4 members.
When there are fewer than 8 members the Technical Committee may
recommend new member(s) to the Project Leader, who may choose
(individually) to appoint them or not.
When there are 5 members or fewer the Technical Committee may appoint
new member(s) until the number of members reaches 6.
When there have been 5 members or fewer for at least one week
the Project Leader may appoint new member(s) until the number of
members reaches 6, at intervals of at least one week per
If the Technical Committee and the Project Leader agree they may
remove or replace an existing member of the Technical Committee.
- The Technical Committee uses the Standard Resolution Procedure.
A draft resolution or amendment may be proposed by any
member of the Technical Committee. There is no minimum
discussion period; the voting period lasts for up to one
week, or until the outcome is no longer in doubt. Members
may change their votes. There is a quorum of two.
- Details regarding voting
The Chairman has a casting vote. When the Technical
Committee votes whether to override a Developer who also
happens to be a member of the Committee, that member may not
vote (unless they are the Chairman, in which case they may
use only their casting vote).
- Public discussion and decisionmaking.
Discussion, draft resolutions and amendments, and votes by
members of the committee, are made public on the Technical
Committee public discussion list. There is no separate
secretary for the Committee.
Confidentiality of appointments.
The Technical Committee may hold confidential discussions
via private email or a private mailing list or other means
to discuss appointments to the Committee. However, votes on
appointments must be public.
No detailed design work.
The Technical Committee does not engage in design of new proposals
and policies. Such design work should be carried out by individuals
privately or together and discussed in ordinary technical policy and
The Technical Committee restricts itself to choosing from
or adopting compromises between solutions and decisions which have
been proposed and reasonably thoroughly discussed elsewhere.
Individual members of the technical committee may of course
participate on their own behalf in any aspect of design and
- Technical Committee makes decisions only as last resort.
The Technical Committee does not make a technical decision
until efforts to resolve it via consensus have been tried
and failed, unless it has been asked to make a decision by
the person or body who would normally be responsible for it.
7. The Project Secretary
Takes votes amongst the Developers, and determines the
number and identity of Developers, whenever this is required
by the constitution.
Can stand in for the Leader, together with the Chairman of
the Technical Committee.
If there is no Project Leader then the Chairman of the
Technical Committee and the Project Secretary may by
joint agreement make decisions if they consider it
imperative to do so.
Adjudicates any disputes about interpretation of the
May delegate part or all of their authority to someone else,
or withdraw such a delegation at any time.
The Project Secretary is appointed by the Project Leader and the
current Project Secretary.
If the Project Leader and the current Project Secretary cannot
agree on a new appointment they must ask the board of SPI to
appoint a Secretary.
If there is no Project Secretary or the current Secretary is
unavailable and has not delegated authority for a decision then
the decision may be made or delegated by the Chairman of the
Technical Committee, as Acting Secretary.
The Project Secretary's term of office is 1 year, at which point
they or another Secretary must be (re)appointed.
The Project Secretary should make decisions which are fair and
reasonable, and preferably consistent with the consensus of the
When acting together to stand in for an absent Project Leader the
Chairman of the Technical Committee and the Project Secretary
should make decisions only when absolutely necessary and only when
consistent with the consensus of the Developers.
8. The Project Leader's Delegates
The Project Leader's Delegates:
- have powers delegated to them by the Project Leader;
- may make certain decisions which the Leader may not make
directly, including approving or expelling Developers or
designating people as Developers who do not maintain packages.
This is to avoid concentration of power, particularly over
membership as a Developer, in the hands of the Project
The Delegates are appointed by the Project Leader and may be
replaced by the Leader at the Leader's discretion. The Project
Leader may not make the position as a Delegate conditional on
particular decisions by the Delegate, nor may they override a
decision made by a Delegate once made.
Delegates may make decisions as they see fit, but should attempt
to implement good technical decisions and/or follow consensus
9. Software in the Public Interest
SPI and Debian are separate organisations who share some goals.
Debian is grateful for the legal support framework offered by SPI.
Debian's Developers are currently members of SPI by virtue
of their status as Developers.
SPI has no authority regarding Debian's technical or
nontechnical decisions, except that no decision by Debian with
respect to any property held by SPI shall require SPI to act
outside its legal authority, and that Debian's constitution
may occasionally use SPI as a decision body of last resort.
Debian claims no authority over SPI other than that over the
use of certain of SPI's property, as described below, though
Debian Developers may be granted authority within SPI by SPI's
Debian Developers are not agents or employees of SPI, or of
each other or of persons in authority in the Debian Project.
A person acting as a Developer does so as an individual, on
their own behalf.
9.2. Management of property for purposes related to Debian
Since Debian has no authority to hold money or property, any
donations for the Debian Project must made to SPI, which
manages such affairs.
SPI have made the following undertakings:
SPI will hold money, trademarks and other tangible and
intangible property and manage other affairs for purposes
related to Debian.
Such property will be accounted for separately and held in
trust for those purposes, decided on by Debian and SPI
according to this section.
SPI will not dispose of or use property held in trust for
Debian without approval from Debian, which may be granted by
the Project Leader or by General Resolution of the Developers.
SPI will consider using or disposing of property held in trust
for Debian when asked to do so by the Project Leader.
SPI will use or dispose of property held in trust for Debian
when asked to do so by a General Resolution of the Developers,
provided that this is compatible with SPI's legal authority.
SPI will notify the Developers by electronic mail to a
Debian Project mailing list when it uses or disposes of
property held in trust for Debian.
A. Standard Resolution Procedure
These rules apply to communal decisionmaking by committees and
plebiscites, where stated above.
The formal procedure begins when a draft resolution is proposed and
sponsored, as required.
A.1. Discussion and Amendment
Following the proposal, the resolution may be discussed.
Amendments may be made formal by being proposed and sponsored
according to the requirements for a new resolution, or
directly by the proposer of the original resolution.
A formal amendment may be accepted by the resolution's
proposer, in which case the formal resolution draft is
immediately changed to match.
If a formal amendment is not accepted, or one of the sponsors
of the resolution does not agree with the acceptance by the
proposer of a formal amendment, the amendment remains as an
amendment and will be voted on.
If an amendment accepted by the original proposer is not to
the liking of others, they may propose another amendment to
reverse the earlier change (again, they must meet the
requirements for proposer and sponsor(s).)
The proposer or a resolution may suggest changes to the
wordings of amendments; these take effect if the proposer of
the amendment agrees and none of the sponsors object. In
this case the changed amendments will be voted on instead of
The proposer of a resolution may make changes to correct minor
errors (for example, typographical errors or inconsistencies) or
changes which do not alter the meaning, providing noone objects
within 24 hours. In this case the mininum discussion period is not
A.2. Calling for a vote
The proposer or a sponsor of a motion or an amendment may call for a vote,
providing that the minimum discussion period (if any) has
The proposer or a sponsor of a motion may call for a vote on any
or all of the amendments individually or together; the
proposer or sponsor of an amendment may call for a vote only on that
amendment and related amendments.
The person who calls for a vote states what they believe the
wordings of the resolution and any relevant amendments are,
and consequently what form the ballot should take. However,
the final decision on the form of ballot(s) is the Secretary's
- see 7.1(1), 7.1(3) and A.3(6).
The minimum discussion period is counted from the time the
last formal amendment was accepted, or the last related formal
amendment was accepted if an amendment is being voted on, or
since the whole resolution was proposed if no amendments have
been proposed and accepted.
A.3. Voting procedure
Each independent set of related amendments is voted on in a
separate ballot. Each such ballot has as options all the
sensible combinations of amendments and options, and an option
Further Discussion. If Further Discussion wins then the
entire resolution procedure is set back to the start of the
discussion period. No quorum is required for an amendment.
When the final form of the resolution has been determined it
is voted on in a final ballot, in which the options are Yes,
No and Further Discussion. If Further Discussion wins then
the entire procedure is set back to the start of the
The vote taker (if there is one) or the voters (if voting is
done by public pronouncement) may arrange for these ballots to
be held simultaneously, even (for example) using a single
voting message. If amendment ballot(s) and the final ballot
are combined in this way then it must be possible for a voter
to vote differently in the final ballot for each of the
possible forms of the final draft resolution.
Votes may be cast during the voting period, as specified
elsewhere. If the voting period can end if the outcome is no
longer in doubt, the possibility that voters may change their
votes is not considered.
The votes are counted according to the Concorde Vote
Counting. If a quorum is required then the default option
is Further Discussion.
In cases of doubt the Project Secretary shall decide on
matters of procedure (for example, whether particular
amendments should be considered independent or not).
A.4. Withdrawing resolutions or unaccepted amendments
The proposer of a resolution or unaccepted amendment may withdraw
it. In this case new proposers may come forward keep it alive, in
which case the first person to do so becomes the new proposer and
any others become sponsors if they aren't sponsors already.
A sponsor of a resolution or amendment (unless it has been
accepted) may withdraw.
If the withdrawal of the proposer and/or sponsors means that a
resolution has no proposer or not enough sponsors it will not be
voted on unless this is rectified before the resolution expires.
If a proposed resolution has not been discussed, amended, voted on
or otherwise dealt with for 4 weeks then it is considered to have
A.6. Concorde Vote Counting
When the Standard Resolution Procedure is to be used, the text
which refers to it must specify what is sufficient to have a draft
resolution proposed and/or sponsored, what the minimum discussion
period is, and what the voting period is. It must also specify
any supermajority and/or the quorum (and default option) to be
This is used to determine the winner amongst a list of
options. Each ballot paper gives a ranking of the voter's
preferred options. (The ranking need not be complete.)
Option A is said to Dominate option B if strictly more ballots
prefer A to B than prefer B to A.
All options which are Dominated by at least one other option
are discarded, and references to them in ballot papers will be
If there is any option which Dominates all others then that is
If there is now more than one option remaining Single
Transferrable Vote will be applied to choose amongst those
The number of first preferences for each option is
counted, and if any option has more than half it is the
Otherwise the option with the lowest number of first
preferences is eliminated and its votes redistributed
according to the second preferences.
This elimination procedure is repeated, moving down ballot
papers to 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. preferences as required,
until one option gets more than half of the `first'
In the case of ties the elector with a casting vote will
decide. The casting vote does not count as a normal vote;
however that elector will usually also get a normal vote.
If a supermajority is required the number of Yes votes in the
final ballot is reduced by an appropriate factor. Strictly
speaking, for a supermajority of F:A, the number of ballots
which prefer Yes to X (when considering whether Yes Dominates
X or X Dominates Yes) or the number of ballots whose first
(remaining) preference is Yes (when doing STV comparisons for
winner and elimination purposes) is multiplied by a factor A/F
before the comparison is done.
This means that a 2:1 vote, for example, means twice as many
people voted for as against; abstentions are not counted.
If a quorum is required, there must be at least that many votes
which prefer the winning option to the default option. If
there are not then the default option wins after all. For
votes requiring a supermajority, the actual number of Yes
votes is used when checking whether the quorum has been
B. Use of language and typography
The present indicative (`is', for example) means that the
statement is a rule in this constitution. `May' or `can' indicates
that the person or body has discretion. `Should' means that it
would be considered a good thing if the sentence were obeyed, but
it is not binding.
Text marked as a citation, such as this, is rationale and
does not form part of the constitution. It may be used only to
aid interpretation in cases of doubt.
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Last Modified: Thu, Dec 10 03:36:32 UTC 1998
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