But you don’t want to “fix” the Hugos.
J. Greely over at .Clue Snagged a comment off of “Making Light” that caught my attention.
“My view is that when we specifically try to change the rules to exclude the Sad Puppies, and we judge how well the changes work by how well they would have excluded the Sad Puppies given historical data, we will have some difficulty explaining to journalists that we are not doing it to exclude the Sad Puppies.”
– J. Thomas, commenting on changing the Hugo rules at Making Light
Those folks have been spinning themselves in circles trying to figure out how to change the rules for Hugo voting to try to prevent Slate voting. They are, of course, ignoring the causes and looking at the effects, and the causes have been known to the WorldCon TruFen for ages, but they never wanted to do anything about them because they benefited them.
Okay, enough sniping, lets look at the REAL problems with Hugo voting. And it’s not something that’s going to be fixed by Weighting and exponential multipliers and block vote detection (Which assumes characteristics of the current vote that are not in evidence until the results are released later this year, and could have unintended consequences in the future).
First of all, if you want to protect against bloc voting, you need to have a Hugo Electorate large enough that assembling a truly effective bloc is impossible. Some have said that lowering the supporting nomination price would increase participation. That may work, but others have said that the costs of processing the Hugos are at break-even at $40. Not having a crack team of Combat Accountants at my disposal, I can’t say if that’s true, or if the increase from circa 500 voters to 2100 has made it more or less expensive per voter to count. (If there are no economies of scale, someone needs to look at the process.) Maybe you could have random prize drawings, or, maybe you could make a bigger deal of the value of the Voter’s packet.
But perhaps you need to look at discouraged voters, people who want to participate, or who have participated in the past but have dropped out, and see why they don’t feel all that great about voting for the Hugos.
One of the typical complaints I’ve seen is that the voters don’t think their vote is effective. Every year they pay their membership, cast their nominations, and feel like they’ve accomplished nothing when nothing they voted for makes it to the ballot. I know that must suck, and the TruFen have certainly gotten a taste of that this year, so I’m sure they understand (Bad Mauser! No Cookie!). They also seem to get disenchanted by the things that do get through that they think are not worthy of the Hugo name. See the previous post for more on that.
The problem is, there are thousands of works published every year, and only five slots per category. And as has been pointed out in many posts about the system, that makes a lot of stuff get lost in the noise. But it also makes the system very vulnerable to small cliques and blocs who can force anything onto the ballot with 10% of the votes (again, a larger electorate makes 10% much harder to achieve). Thus putting factions on the horns of a dilemma, how to keep the other faction out without hurting their own chances. (Okay, I get it, no Cookie, but I’m on a diet!)
Well, forgetting factions, the real problem here is the dilution of the nominating votes. If five hundred things each get a single vote apiece, that’s a significant number of ballots that have no effect on the outcome. No wonder people feel disenfranchised. Some folks are proposing all kinds of complicated formulae for adjusting the cut-off of the asymptotic curve, but they’re trying to fix a dynamic problem with a solution based strictly on their perception of this year’s data. The approach is doomed to fail merely because of its overcomplexity, and it’s only aimed at salving their bruised egos at losing, rather than addressing the basic problems of voters on the fringes.
So, what is my proposal?
The Two Stage nomination process:
Here’s how it works. As before, each supporting member gets a nomination ballot where they can enter five items, unranked, per category. Then, the top twenty-five vote getters are announced as the Nominee Pool. Next the Voters get to vote on which five of those 25 they think should be on the final ballot. And then finally, the ranked, Australian-rules ballot is cast as normal.
Why would this work? First, with regard to slate voting, the best they could take with their five nomination pool slots is five places. Even two competing and opposite slates could only get 2/5 of the slots. Second, with regard to disenfranchised voters, even if all five of their nominees fail to make the pool, they still have a chance to make a difference when it comes to deciding the final five nominees. All the marginal voters are now up for grabs. They are still a part of the process. They may not have gotten the works they want on the ballot, but they’re still involved instead of being shut out. So now, a slate would have to get a majority of the votes to advance itself, rather than the typical 10%.
To be sure, there are fine tuning details to work out. For example, I would lean towards including all the results of a tie in the pool, unless they are single vote getters, or maybe two vote getters, so long as the pool doesn’t get too big. The threshold should be set to keep it between say, 25 and 50.
I’d also suggest making the process electronic only. It allows automating the process, and we’re practically there already, with only three paper votes this year.
The Second Problem
There is one other common Hugo complaint. The best Dramatic Presentation Short Form being all episodes of Doctor Who. I will give the SP campaign props for bringing actual diversity to this category this year. But how can this be accomplished without a slate? Only allow one episode per series? That could get ugly.
My suggestion: Nominate a Series, rather than a specific episode. Not even a Season, since seasons so often span a year end. If a series airs an episode in say, 2016, it is eligible for 2016, regardless of whether it was the last episode of Season 5 or the first episode of Season 6 that tickled someone’s fancy.
What do you think, sirs?