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All the King’s Horses…

May 16, 2016

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Last year at Sasquan the worldcon business meeting passed two proposals to change the voting procedures for the Hugo Awards, to deal with the problems posed by slating. WSFS rules require that a change be passed by two successive worldcons before it takes effect, however, so both 4/6 and EPH will be up again for vote at MidAmericon II in August.

The 4/6 proposal is pretty straightforward. At present there are five finalists in each category, and each voter gets to nominate five choices for those five slots. 4/6 would increase the number of finalists to six, and simultaneously decrease the number of nominations allowed each voter to four. The theory being that a slate voting lockstep might take four slots, but not the whole category.

EPH, which stands for E Pluribus Hugo, is considerably more complicated, and I will not attempt to describe it here. It was designed by mathematicians and voting theorists, and will supposedly prevent a small disciplined minority from taking all the slots on the ballot. There’s been plenty of discussion and debate about EPH all over the internet.

Most recently, the designers of EPH have done a test run to see what impact the system would have had on the latest ballot. The results, and a spirited discussion of same, can be found over on Mike Glyer’s FILE 770, here:

((For those of an academic and mathematical bent, the hard crunchy bits are here:

From where I sit, the EPH results are not very encouraging.

Over the past few months, I’ve read countless variations of the statement that goes, “well, this is the last year we will have a problem, come summer we’ll pass EPH and all will be fine.” I had my doubts about that every time I heard it, and this new report just confirms them. We may indeed pass EPH, and it may help… a little… but all will not be fine.

We may pass 4/6 too, and that could also help… slightly… but it’s easily thwarted, if you have hundreds of followers who will do exactly as you tell them, and the Rabids seem to have just that.

If EPH and 4/6, or both, are passed at MidAmericon II, and work more-or-less as advertised, the slates will no longer be able to completely dominate entire categories by taking all five slots. The reforms should ensure that there are at least one or two legitimate nominees in every category. Which is better, certainly, than what has happened to Best Related Work the past two ballots, say. But it is still far from ideal. Future ballots will instead look more like last year’s Best Novelette, Best Professional Artist, and Best Fan Writer shortlists, or this year’s Best Fan Artist, all of which featured one legit choice and four slate candidates. Maybe we’d see some improvement in some categories, and have two finalists to choose between.

Better than what we have now? Sure. But comparable to being able to choose among five strong candidates to decide which one was the very best of the year? Not even close.

I can hear the proponents of EPH and 4/6 saying their reforms were never meant to be a cure all. Yes, I know that, I never believed otherwise, and I applaud your efforts to help. I just wish these reforms helped more. Neither EPH nor 4/6 is going to prevent us from having VD on the Best Editor shortlist from now until the heat death of the universe.

And I also know that there are now other proposals out there, proposals that call for three-stage voting, for negative votes and blackballing, for juries. Some of these cures, I fear, might be even worse than the disease. We have plenty of juried awards; we don’t need another. Three-stage voting, with fifteen semi-finalists that get boiled down to five finalists and one winner? Maybe, but that considerably increases the workload of the Hugo administrators, whose job is hard enough already… and I fear it would actually ratchet up campaigning, as friends and fans of those on the List of Fifteen rallied around their favorites to get them on the List of Five. And a blackball round, voting things off the ballot? Is that really a can of worms we want to open, in this present climate? That would dial the ugliness up to eleven, I fear… or higher.

Sadly, I don’t think there is an answer here. No magic bullet is going to fix this. And I fear that the people saying, “pretty soon the assholes will get bored and go away,” are being hopelessly naive. The assholes are having far too much fun.

A year ago April, when Sasquan announced the ballot, I wrote the Hugo Awards had been broken, and might never be fixed. A lot has happened since that time, and from time to time I’ve allowed myself to think that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that this too would pass. Now I am starting to fear that my first reaction was the correct one.

The Hugo Awards have always been an occasion for joy, for celebrating excellence and recognizing the best among us. That’s what we need to get back to. But I don’t see how.

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