We Still Need 3 Stage Voting

Worldcon is almost upon us. It appears to be shaping up into a wonderful event, and another Worldcon at which one of the most watched events will be the WSFS Business Meeting.

On offer this year is the potential ratification of Three Stage Voting (3SV), a change to Hugo Awards voting procedures that was proposed last year and will go into effect in 2018 – IF the voting members ratify it this year.

What is it? It’s a modification of the voting procedures that is designed to keep inappropriate nominees off of the Finalists list by giving voters an opportunity to look at the top 15 nominees before they become finalized; obvious slate nominees, trolling efforts and “griefer” nominees can then be removed from the final ballot (replaced by the next highest nominee from the long list), if a sufficient number/percentage of voters agree that it should be removed.

The Hugo Awards are being used by inimical elements for several purposes: self-aggrandizement through promotion, “poking SJWs in the eye” for their own amusement, attempted diminishment of Worldcon/Hugo’s standing, promotion of an award they can more easily game, trolling for the sake of trolling, alt-rt/gamergate political support.

The Hugo Awards were NEVER supposed to be a commercial tool. The Hugo Awards were NEVER meant to be a political tool. The objective of the changes to voting over the past three years has never been to “silence” or even to attack the attackers, it has been an effort to modify voting procedures in such a way that they effectually return to their pre-puppy-advent status: a system in which each individual votes their personal conscience absent organized effort.

In 2015, the voting membership, faced with a final ballot that was dominated by works gamed onto the ballot by Sad & Rabid Puppies, responded by effectively putting 3SV into action before it had been proposed: in every single award category marred by puppy nominees – with one exception – NO AWARD was voted in ahead of the puppy nominees. What this meant was that multiple categories had no actual winner (No Award “won”); other categories drew their winner from the non-puppy nominees.

Several things fell out. First, good and honored works that should have been on the final ballot were shown to have been knocked out of the running by slated nominees. Second, the majority of Hugo voters demonstrated that they could easily identify those works that did not belong AND could separate “shield” nominees from other types of puppy nominees, as they did in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form category (giving the win to Guardians of the Galaxy, despite its appearance on puppy slates).

And we all saw the puppies go on to use the results to continue to promote both their political agenda AND the “Hugo Finalist” status for their slated nominees that had appeared on the final ballot.

In 2016 we learned that the puppies could and would modify their strategies in the face of changes implemented by WSFS. By doing so, they insured that three unacceptable things continued to happen: first – worthy, deserving nominees were STILL knocked off the ballot by slated puppy nominees; second, the puppies continued to use their presence on the ballot to promote their works and third, much of the voting membership was subborned into believing that the “problem with puppies” was diminishing/on its way out – a position taken more from exhaustion with the problem than from any real lasting changes to reality.

EPH has demonstrated that it is incapable of keeping worthy works from being bumped off the ballot by slate attacks. Its promoters have tested it and can’t claim results beyond its insuring that there will be at least one or two worthy works on the final ballot (in the face of a determined slate attack).

The number of slate nominees would have been reduced by 1 in 6 categories, and by 2 in 2 categories, leaving no category without at least one non-slate nominee. That doesn’t seem like very much. A reasonable question to ask is why doesn’t it reduce the number more. The answer is simply that the slate was powerful last year.  (Emphasis added.)

That is, on the face of it, entirely unacceptable. An award category with 6 Finalists, only one or two of which haven’t been gamed onto it? That’s like giving up the Phillipines, retreating to Corrigdor and calling it a victory.

As mentioned previously, we have seen the puppies modify their behavior in response to WSFS moves.  We have seen they are capable of – and in fact have a roadmap for – responding effectively to those changes.  Given their past history, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to attempt to mess with the awards.

Up until now, WSFS has, out of necessity (WSFS follows its own rules, both implied and actual;  outside parties are not so restricted), been playing a “reactive” game.  In order to stop the shenanigans, WSFS must become proactive.  It has to get out in front of puppy machinations.

WSFS must implement a change that gives Fandom – not the puppies – the FINAL SAY over who and what will be on the final ballot.

Let us not forget that AFTER the (ideally) non-commercially based voting process has ended, 5 Finalists and 1 Winner will be engaging in commercial activity.  So far as the wider world is concerned, any work bearing the imprint of “Hugo Finalist 20xx” or “Hugo Winner 20xx” is accorded the same weight – AND EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM IS CONSIDERED TO REPRESENT THE QUALITY OF THE AWARD AND THE PEOPLE VOTING FOR IT.

There is a difference between a work that is unworthy of nomination and a work that is worthy but doesn’t make the cut.  The latter maintains the quality of the award.  The former diminishes it, and does so for as long as a list of Hugo Award Winners and Finalists is consulted by the reading public.

For all of those reasons – maintaining the quality and integrity of the award, ensuring that as many worthy works as possible gain the final ballot, to give honest Hugo Voters the final say and to implement a rules change that is proactive, I remain in favor of ratifying 3SV.

The goal for the fight with the puppies (and for any fight with similarly-minded bad actors) is NOT to diminish their influence, it’s to ELIMINATE it.  Rather, it is to create voting conditions in which everyone (EVERYONE) participating does so within the proscribed lines, both rules-based and culturally implied.  The default response should be “we don’t game the Hugo Awards”, not “how can I exploit this hole?”.

Two charges have been leveled against 3SV by those who are now suggesting it not be ratified. (A third reason will also be addressed.)

First, that the Long List of potential Finalists can still be used by bad actors to promote their works in the name of the Hugo.  Here’s why that doesn’t wash:

These are not the Hugo Award Finalists.

No one on that list gets to claim anything other than the fact that their work was on the Long List – with 14+ other works. It’s the equivalent of claiming status because your novel was displayed by Amazon in the “people who read this also read…”.

If creators and producers want to try to make hay over their status of having been voted off the ballot – let them. The only works that are going to acquire sufficient no votes to be removed are those that were clearly gamed onto the ballot. The Hugo Awards will gain an additional, positive reputation as being not only THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS AWARD IN SCIENCE FICTION, but also the most discerning community-voted award.

Second, that 3SV can be used in future for political aims it was not intended for.

True, that remains a potential vulnerability, but lets be clear here: from 1954 on and with only two exceptions*, the majority of the Hugo Awards electorate has voted in a manner commensurate with the intentions of the award. For 60** fucking years fans have managed to get together and restrict themselves, voluntarily, to only voting for works they are familiar with, only voting based on the merits of the work, and participating honestly in a system where their vote is directly influential.

That is a MONUMENTAL achievement.

I believe that if changes to the voting system allow it to return to its pre-puppy status quo, that the vast majority of voters will return to conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion. They’ll judge works based on the merits of those works.

Further, there is a very high threshold for removal from the list. If that threshold proves to not be high enough, correction will be quickly implemented. Better one year in which we are arguing over a handful of worthy works, rather than a number of years in which we are arguing over unworthy works.

The third reason: ALL of the anti-3SV ratification commentary I have read so far suggests, in one fashion or another, that puppy influence over the awards has been diminishing in the face of EPH, 5+6 and the other measures that have so far been implemented.

What we are seeing is not disinterest on the part of the puppies. It is a pause on their part to see what changes get made so that they can modify their own strategies. They have not gone away, nor will they ever go away. Remember Alfred’s words: “Some men just want to see the world burn.”

Not all puppies are the same, but at their base is a core that has some very cynical, entirely unfannish goals in mind. Among those goals are:

punish and embarass the Worldcon community
obtaining Undeserved award status for commercial benefit
diminishing the status of the award in favor of awards more easily gamed

These goals are personal to the individuals holding them. They will not stop. Ever. Until the Hugos are dead, dead, dead.

3SV remains, despite what some are calling flaws, the ONLY proactive change to the rules that places control back into the hands of the membership, preserves the integrity of the awards, curtails or eliminates commercial benefit from gaming the awards and clearly identifies those works that were gamed onto the ballot (when they get removed).

Below is the full proposal that will be presented at this year’s business meeting, along with some commentary from those proposing it. I urge ratification.


Moved, to amend Section 3.7 (Nominations) and Section 3.8 (Tallying of Nominations) for the purpose of creating an intermediate stage in the Hugo Award selection process by striking out and inserting text as follows.

Section 3.7: Nominations.

3.7.1: The Worldcon Committee shall conduct a two-stage poll to select the finalists for the Award voting. Each In the Nominating stage, each member of the administering Worldcon, the immediately preceding Worldcon, or the immediately following Worldcon as of January 31 of the current calendar year shall be allowed to make up to five (5) equally weighted nominations in every category.

3.7.2: The Committee shall include with each nomination ballot a copy of Article 3 of the WSFS Constitution and any applicable extensions of eligibility under Sections 3.4.

3.7.3: Nominations shall be solicited only for the Hugo Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

3.7.4 3.8.2: The Worldcon Committee shall determine the eligibility of nominees and assignment to the proper category of works nominated in more than one category.

3.7.5 3.8.3: Any nominations for “No Award” shall be disregarded.

3.7.6 3.8.4: If a nominee appears on a nomination ballot more than once in any one category, only one nomination shall be counted in that category.

3.7.7 3.8.6: The Committee shall move a nomination from another category to the work’s default category only if the member has made fewer than five (5) nominations in the default category.

3.7.8 3.8.7: If a work receives a nomination in its default category, and if the Committee relocates the work under its authority under subsection 3.2.7 or 3.2.8, the Committee shall count the nomination even if the member already has made five (5) nominations in the more-appropriate category

Section 3.8: Tallying of Nominations. Qualification Stage.

3.8.1: Except as provided below, the final Award ballots shall list in each category the five eligible nominees receiving the most nominations. If there is a tie including fifth place, all the tied eligible nominees shall be listed.

[3.8.2, 3.8.3, 3.8.4, 3.8.6, and 3.8.7 moved to Section 3.7.]

3.8.5: No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

3.8.1: The Qualification stage of the process shall be based on a long list of the top fifteen Qualifiers (including ties that include fifteenth place) from the nomination process in each category. Only WSFS members may vote in this stage.

3.8.2: The purpose of the Qualification Stage is to allow the membership to confirm their willingness to see each Qualifier taken forward as a potential Hugo Award Finalist.

3.8.3: In the Qualification Stage ballot, each voter may choose between the options “Accept”, “Reject”, and “Abstain” for each Qualifier in each category.

3.8.4: A Qualifier shall be eliminated from consideration for the Final Ballot if it meets the following two criteria:

(1) the number of “Reject” votes is at least 60% of the combined total of “Accept” and “Reject” votes;

(2) the number of “Reject” votes is at least the higher of 600 or 20% of the number of eligible voters.

3.8.5: The final Award ballots shall list in each category the five eligible Qualifiers who received the most nominations in the first stage Nominating Ballot and were not eliminated from consideration in the Qualification Stage. If there is a tie including fifth place, all the tied eligible nominees shall be listed.

Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the 2023 Business Meeting, Sections 3.7 and 3.8 shall revert to their wording prior to the initial ratification of this amendment, and

Provided that the question of re-ratification shall be automatically be placed on the agenda of the 2023 Business Meeting with any constitutional amendments awaiting ratification.

Proposed By: Colin Harris, Kevin Standlee, Nicholas Whyte, Colette Fozard, Warren Buff

The essential argument for this change is that it enables us to directly address slates and bad actors in a direct way – and a way that statistical solutions such as EPH and 4+6 cannot. We have put it forward in recognition of the fact that the reputation and integrity of the Hugo Awards is under sustained attack, and in the belief that a response is needed to this reality. We would of course have preferred it if such a response was not necessary. The rationale for the proposal is as follows.

Statistical solutions may reduce the number of slate nominees; but not sufficiently to act as a deterrent to slate campaigners or bad actors. Ensuring 1-2 non-slate candidates per category is ultimately a pyrrhic victory in terms of the reputation of the Awards; securing 2-3 finalists per category offers a strong incentive for slate campaigners to continue their efforts indefinitely, and continues to exclude nominees that would otherwise have made the Final Ballot from being recognised.
We have seen that the membership is willing to use No Award to reject finalists that they consider are not appropriate winners of the Hugo Award. However this test is applied when the damage is done. The proposal essentially moves the No Award test to an earlier stage of the process. The Qualification Ballot is not a ranking ballot, but specifically enables members to reject candidates that they believe have benefited from inappropriate promotion. (It is important that the Qualification Ballot is presented clearly as one in which “Reject” should be used only for candidates that members feel are not suitable for inclusion on the Final Ballot – typically due to abuse of process – and not as an opportunity to express preference among the acceptable candidates. The wording of the Qualification Ballot rubric will therefore need to be clearly presented.
It is similarly important to note that the Qualification Ballot is not used to re-rank the candidates for inclusion on the Final Ballot. Once any rejected candidates have been eliminated, it is the ranking from the original Nomination Ballot that determines the ranking and hence which finalists should be taken forward.

*the exceptions are well documented; in both cases the works in question were voted “below No Award”, the only effective strategy available at the time. Nearly all follow-on discussion surroundig these events centered on the unfannish nature of such acts, and a determination that such should not be allowed.

**The Hugos have been given out continuously since 1955.

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