Hugo Voting: Let’s Look at the Record (Again)

by George Flynn

[originally published in Apa:WSFS 1995 #4, July 1995;
updated in January 1997;
Table 1 and Site Selection Voting Appendix (only) updated through Aussiecon 3, December 1999,
NASFiC Voting Addendum added, December 1999]

Back in 1988, I wrote an article on Hugo voting statistics for The Mad 3 Party (#30, November 1988). That was long enough ago that it may be worthwhile to do it again. So here’s the new version, with lots more boring numbers. The 1988 version began as follows:

I am often amazed by the kinds of misinformation that people believe about Hugo voting figures. Just an example: One widely distributed report on this year’s nominations said, "There were 122 ballots with best fanzine nominations (29%, a high number)." The 122 was in fact the number of fanzines nominated, not the number of people nominating; but where did the idea come from that 29% would be "a high number"? (As we shall see, 45% would be typical.) This idea that hardly anyone votes on the fan Hugos is perhaps the most widespread of the misconceptions I alluded to.

As Mike Glyer pointed out in a recent File 770, it’s just ten years since full Hugo voting counts began to be routinely released. (Mike and I sponsored the rule that now requires this publication.) The numbers come out every year, but not many people wade through them to see what they all mean. After ten years, though, we should have enough data to do some useful analysis. The numbers that follow mostly come from the annual tabulations in the newszines, with some exceptions that I’ll note.

(The exceptions are from official reports of Hugo administrators, some of them by me.) Well, there’s probably just as much misinformation around today, but we do have an additional eight years of data, including some details not available for earlier years. The rest of this article is organized mostly like the original one; however, I’ve come up with many new ways to tweak the numbers. And we’ll see whether the conclusions turn out the same . . .

Table 1 — Total Vote Counts (1971–99)
Year Hugo Ballots No. of Site-
Selection
Advance Final Hugo
  Nominating Final Categories Ballots Memb. Vote Ratio
1971 343 732 9 1600 0.46
1972 270 550 9 256 1500 0.37
1973 350 708 11 375 2200 0.32
1974 ? 930 12 645 2600 0.36
1975* 267 600 12 528 1880 0.32
1976 486 1595 12 993 3600 0.44
1977 500 800 12 884 2800 0.29
1978 540 1246 13 1154 4200 0.30
1979* 467 1160 13 920 4126 0.28
1980 563 1788 13 1549 5447 0.33
1981 454 1247 12 1680 4529 0.28
1982 648 1071 12 1119 5000 0.21
1983 660 1322 12 729 5500 0.24
1984 513 1467 13 1368 6740 0.22
1985* 222 443 13 527 2199 0.20
1986 568 1267 13 1863 (’88) 5400 0.23
        1276 (’89)    
1987* 567 990 13 1373 4953 0.20
1988 418 1178 14 1455 4721 0.25
1989 539 980 13 1636 6100 0.16
1990* 291 486 14 1088 3418 0.14
1991 352 1048 13 2086 5126 0.20
1992 498 902 14 2509 5297 0.17
1993 397 841 14 1282 5834 0.14
1994 649 491 14 1439 4388 0.11
1995* 477 744 14 1554 4900 0.15
1996 442 939 14 1064 6000 0.16
1997 429 687 13 1467 4400 0.16
1998 471 769 13 2168 5131 0.15
1999* 425 438 13 820 2425 0.18

(* = overseas Worldcon)

How many people vote on the Hugos? The left side of Table 1 gives the numbers of nominating and final ballots each year since 1971, along with the numbers of site-selection ballots for comparison. (In this and all the tables, the "year" is that in which the voting takes place, not the year of the works being voted on.) Also included is the number of categories on the final Hugo ballot (including Campbell and Gandalf awards). Note that in the early ’70s the size of the Worldcon was growing rapidly. But since the mid-’70s the "normal" Hugo nominating-ballot count has been fairly stable at around 500. The final-ballot count has fluctuated more, but the "normal" count seems to have declined from around 1200 in the late ’70s to perhaps 900 today. Still, there seems to be a relatively stable population of Hugo voters — more stable, at least, than the Worldcon membership itself.

The most obvious exceptions to this stability can be accounted for by geographical factors: Australia (1975 and 1985) and Holland (1990) had about half the usual vote. (For Winnipeg in 1994, the final vote was similarly low; but since ConFrancisco also distributed nomination ballots, the nominating vote in 1994 was the second-highest ever.) As for other fluctuations, the high final vote in 1980 may derive from the special effort Noreascon II made to get ballots to last-minute joiners; did something similar occur in 1976? Conversely, some relatively low vote counts (e.g., the 1988 and 1991 nomination counts) have been attributed to late distribution of ballots.

In 1996, there were 111 nominating ballots and 605 final ballots for the 1946 "Retro-Hugos"; 558 of the latter voters cast ballots for both 1946 and 1996 Hugos. (Since the voting pattern is likely to be quite different, the Retro-Hugos will not be considered further in this article.)

What fraction of the Worldcon membership votes? Now consider the right side of Table 1. The "Advance Memb." column gives the best numbers I have been able to find for the final pre-convention Worldcon membership; some of these numbers are obviously more accurate than others. And the "Final Hugo Vote Ratio" column gives the number of final Hugo ballots divided by the "Advance Memb." As you can see, this ratio has dropped from around 40% to around 15%. Depressing, yes? One problem with these numbers is that the Worldcon membership tends to increase rapidly at the last minute, and many of these people join too late to vote. So the voting percentage among people who actually get a chance to vote is higher than tabulated here, but probably not by much. (For what it’s worth, in 1980 I estimated that 17% of the eligible-at-the-time members nominated, while 37% cast final ballots. But these figures were probably higher than average, and for most years there are no good data available for the membership-at-the-time.)

Explanation of category tables: Many of the tables that follow give assorted statistics for individual Hugo categories. For these I generally have data only from 1978 through 1996. Since (as described above) some years had votes much lower than usual, I’ve divided the results into "Low" and "Other": "Low" includes Aussiecon II (1985) and ConFiction (1990) for both nominating and final ballots, plus ConAdian (1994) for the final ballot; "Other" covers everything else. Rather than giving the numbers for every year, for both "Low" and "Other" I simply list the range (high and low bounds) and the average. With regard to Hugo categories, note that the Non-Fiction Book category first appeared on the Hugo ballot in 1980; the Original Artwork category was tested in 1990, and appeared regularly from 1992 to 1996 (when it was abolished). What had been the "Fanzine" category in 1978–83 was divided in 1984 into "Semiprozine" and "Fanzine," so separate tabulations for the two periods are given for these categories.

[I defined the"Low" and "Other" sets in the 1994 version of this article. The 1995 final counts were generally somewhat lower than the previous range of "Other" years, but not by enough to justify a complete reorganization.]

The average overall votes (from Table 1) for the subsets defined here are as follows:

Nominating: "Low": range 222–291, average 256

Nominating: "Other": range 352–660, average 515

Final: "Low": range 443–491, average 473

Final: "Other": range 744–1788, average 1137

 

Table 2 — Minimum Nominating Vote (1978–96)
Category Low (85, 90) Other
  Range Average Range Average
Novel 25–26 26 25–96 49
Novella 21–27 24 16–58 39
Novelette 15–17 16 13–43 29
Short Story 9–14 12 11–42 25
Non-Fiction Book 16–16 16 12–32 19
Dramatic Pres. 40–59 50 8–119 49
Prof. Editor 20–27 24 29–111 59
Prof. Artist 16–26 21 24–49 38
Original Artwork (90–96) 5 5 7–13 9
Fanzine (78–83) 15–70 37
Semiprozine (84–96) 9–30 20 15–44 30
Fanzine (84–96) 7–23 15 14–32 23
Fan Writer 8–14 11 10–32 18
Fan Artist 10–19 14 14–32 22
Campbell Award 6–9 8 8–54 16

How many nominations does it take to get on the Hugo ballot? Table 2 gives the minimum nominating vote by category, arranged as described in the preceding section. That is to say, the lowest-ranking nominee to actually make the final ballot for Best Novel, say, has gotten as few as 25 nominations (1978 and 1990) and as many as 96 (1983), with an "Other" average of 49. It is depressing to see how few nominations it takes to get on the ballot, with the "Other" average under 25 in six categories. (Interestingly, the low end of the "Other" range in 9 of 11 possible categories is from 1978, although the total nominating vote wasn’t particularly low that year. This is probably because since 1982 there has been a rule requiring nominees to receive at least 5% of the number of nominating ballots in their category in order to appear on the final ballot. We’ll have more to say about this later.)

The variation between categories — and years — is largely a function of the number of likely nominees. For example, there are only a few well-known professional editors, so the vote in that category tends to be concentrated and the minimum-vote-to-nominate consistently high. Similarly, Dramatic Presentation usually has a high minimum, because in most years there are only a few good SF movies (the low of 8 votes in 1978, when Star Wars blew everything else away, may have been a case of too few plausible choices). In the fiction categories, the vote typically gets more and more scattered as you go to shorter lengths: short stories get almost as few nominations as fanzines. The highest minimum ever was 119 for Dramatic Presentation in 1983; while Original Artwork had the lowest minima for both "Low" and "Other" years. (By the way, the Novella average would be 41 if the category shifts hadn’t been made in 1994; the other figures would be unchanged.)

Table 3 — Maximum Nominating Vote (1978–96)
Category Low (85, 90) Other
  Range Average Range Average
Novel 41–46 44 66–189 110
Novella 30–50 40 39–182 82
Novelette 23–38 30 28–88 52
Short Story 17–30 24 29–87 49
Non-Fiction Book 23–54 38 27–121 62
Dramatic Pres. 75–96 86 70–338 191
Prof. Editor 54–58 56 92–240 138
Prof. Artist 43–53 48 55–188 100
Original Artwork (90–96) 15 15 11–47 30
Fanzine (78–83) 53–159 95
Semiprozine (84–96) 70–72 71 90–190 136
Fanzine (84–96) 28–36 32 21–84 55
Fan Writer 24–31 28 23–66 45
Fan Artist 29–45 37 23–99 55
Campbell Award 30–32 31 16–123 50

How about the high end of the nominating range? Table 2 gave the figures for the lowest-ranking nominees in each category; in Table 3 are the corresponding figures for the highest-ranking nominees. The ranges here are somewhat wider, since the maximum vote is affected more by single blockbuster nominees. As you might expect, the Dramatic Presentation nominee with the most votes nearly always beats out anything in the other categories (the exceptions were 1979, when Varley’s "The Persistence of Vision" outscored Superman; and 1995, when both Pro Editor and Semiprozine had higher-scoring nominees). The single nominee with the most votes (338) is still Star Wars in 1978 — and even that received less than 2/3 of the total nominating ballots. As you might surmise from that datum, the votes cast in individual categories are always appreciably lower than the overall total; the next few tables will give details.

The lowest maximum vote was 11 for Original Artwork in 1995, when the range of nominations was 8–11. Generally, however, the narrowest ranges appear in the Novelette and Short Story categories: the closest things to ties were 43–49 for Novelette in 1983, and 26–30 for Short Story (seven nominees) in 1992, again illustrating the typical flat distribution of votes for short fiction. (By the way, the "Other" maximum and minimum averages in most categories are several votes lower than those I calculated in 1978: further evidence of the decline in Hugo votes. [Three categories had their lowest maxima in 1995, and one in 1996.] Without the category shifts in 1994, the Novelette average would have dropped further to 50.)

Table 4 — Nominating Ballots by Category (1980–96 Partial)
Category Low (85, 90) Other (Partial)
  Range Average Range Average
Novel 158–246 202 289–606 442
Novella 112–171 142 184–316 250
Novelette 106–169 138 181–353 264
Short Story 116–166 141 190–404 292
Non-Fiction Book 109–127 118 120–304 198
Dramatic Pres. 175–177 176 211–528 341
Prof. Editor 133–171 152 190–439 304
Prof. Artist 133–184 158 201–439 320
Original Artwork (90–96 part.) 75 75 100–216 140
Fanzine (80, 83) 318–364 341
Semiprozine (84–96 part.) 109–169 139 176–320 243
Fanzine (84–96 part.) 94–152 123 179–299 232
Fan Writer 85–122 104 133–247 193
Fan Artist 83–127 105 143–244 199
Campbell Award 78–118 98 127–307 208

How many people make nominations in each category? Unfortunately, these numbers haven’t been published every year; the data I have at hand are only for 1980, 1983, 1985–87, 1989–94, and 1996. (For these years the "Other" range of overall nominating votes is still 352–660, but the average is 524.) Table 4 gives the number of nominating ballots cast by category, for those years only. For the "Low" years, the lower end of the range in every case was in 1985. For the "Other" years available, Chicon V (1991) had the lowest vote in 11 of 13 possible categories; ConAdian (1994) was highest in 6 of 14 categories. (Nevertheless, the average "Other" vote has declined significantly since 1988 — by 41 votes in the average category, ranging from 13 for Semiprozine to 78 for Dramatic.) Print chauvinists will be gratified that (for these years at least) the Novel category always gets the most nominating ballots, the highest being 606 in 1983; however, Dramatic Presentation usually takes the lead on the final ballot. At the other extreme, Original Artwork drew the fewest nominating ballots every year it was on the ballot.

 

Table 5 — Nominating Percentages by Category (1980–96 Partial)
Category Low (85, 90) Other (Partial) Overall
  Range Average Range Average Average
Novel 71–85 78 75–92 84 83
Novella 50–59 55 37–56 48 49
Novelette 48–58 53 43–61 50 51
Short Story 52–57 55 50–66 56 55
Non-Fiction Book 44–49 46 29–54 38 39
Dramatic Pres. 61–79 70 53–80 65 65
Prof. Editor 59–60 59 45–78 58 58
Prof. Artist 60–63 62 45–73 61 61
Original Artwork (90–96 part.) 26 26 23–33 28 27
Fanzine (80, 83) 55–56 56 56
Semiprozine (84–96 part.) 49–58 54 42–57 49 50
Fanzine (84–96 part.) 42–52 47 44–55 46 47
Fan Writer 38–42 40 30–42 37 38
Fan Artist 37–44 40 26–50 38 38
Campbell Award 35–41 38 31–51 39 39

The raw numbers are interesting, but it may be more useful to consider the numbers of nominating ballots in each category as percentages of the total nominating vote (see Table 1); these percentages are given in Table 5. As one might expect, in this table there is no significant difference between the "Low" and the "Other" years, so I have added a column giving the overall averages. Curiously, Noreascon II (1980) had the highest percentages in 8 of 12 possible categories; I have no idea why (though I ran the Hugos that year). The lowest percentages are scattered over time, but I note that four categories each had their lowest percentages in 1987 and 1996. The "Other" averages for most of the professional categories have decreased by 2–3% since 1988. For what it’s worth, here’s a table of the percentage nominating in the average category over time:

Year 80 83 85 86 87 89 90 91 92 93 94 96
Average % 62 54 52 51 48 54 53 52 48 45 46 46

There seems to be a slight downward trend, though not as strong as the trend we will see below for the final-ballot percentages. It seems that Hugo voters (and fans in general?) are tending to have more specialized interests. (Also, we have tended to add relatively low-vote categories.)

While several categories fairly consistently fall below 50%, in these years only Original Artwork went below 25% (in 1992 and 1996); the lowest in other categories is 26% for Fan Artist in 1986. In particular, the numbers for Fanzine demonstrate the point I made in the 1988 introduction: nearly as many people nominate fanzines as nominate in the short-fiction categories. (As we’ll see below, even the low-vote categories get somewhat higher voting percentages on the final ballots.)

Table 6 — Number of Items Nominated (1980–96 Partial)
Category Low (85, 90) Other (Partial)
  Range Average Range Average
Novel 157–176 166 156–285 211
Novella* 35–58 46 37–87 57
Novelette* 91–116 104 109–147 128
Short Story* 145–157 151 165–284 230
Non-Fiction Book 47–66 56 40–109 72
Dramatic Pres. 57–66 62 63–147 104
Prof. Editor 58–68 63 54–95 74
Prof. Artist 93–127 110 138–181 160
Original Artwork (90–96 part.) 101 101 113–219 166
Fanzine (80, 83) 142–190 168
Semiprozine (84–96 part.) 26–48 37 38–60 50
Fanzine (84–96 part.) 75–102 88 100–176 138
Fan Writer 90–117 104 132–216 174
Fan Artist 81–113 97 95–221 166
Campbell Award 58–84 71 67–145 112

(*: "Other" numbers for these categories do not include 1980)

How many different items receive nominations? Here’s something I didn’t include in 1988. We have data on this question from 1980–85, 1988–91, 1994, and 1996. (As you may have gathered, any two Worldcons seldom report quite the same sets of data.) These numbers appear in Table 6, in the usual format. (In 1980 I lumped the three short-fiction categories together on the first pass; the best I can say is that 468 items were nominated in one or more of these categories.) The "Low" years still have smaller numbers, but not by as much as in Tables 2–4. Curiously, 1996 had the lowest "Other" numbers in seven categories. There certainly are a remarkable number of things that someone considers worthy of a Hugo nomination. Nevertheless, the relative paucity of candidates in the Novella and Semiprozine categories is particularly striking.

Table 7 — Total Number of Nominating Votes Cast, and Nominations per Ballot (1982–96 Partial)
  Total Votes Cast Noms. per Ballot
  1992 82–83, 89, 93–94, 96   1992 83, 89, 93–94, 96  
    Range Average   Range Average
Novel 793 991–2085 1532 1.9 3.0–3.4 3.3
Novella 401 521–1018 741 1.7 2.5–2.9 2.7
Novelette 588 540–1190 860 2.4 2.7–3.1 2.9
Short Story 537 686–1188 958 2.1 2.7–3.3 3.0
Non-Fiction Book 176 291–532 399 1.2 1.8–2.1 1.9
Dramatic Pres. 700 582–1676 985 2.1 2.5–3.2 2.8
Prof. Editor 431 564–1209 870 1.6 2.5–2.8 2.6
Prof. Artist 527 576–1186 912 1.9 2.7–3.1 2.9
Original Artwork (90–96 part.) 208 270–500 366 1.8 2.3–2.7 2.5
Fanzine (82–83) 842–916 879 2.3 2.3
Semiprozine (89–96 part.) 429 448–687 560 1.8 2.1–2.4 2.2
Fanzine (89–96 part.) 270 436–678 547 1.2 2.3–2.5 2.4
Fan Writer 337 374–620 499 1.7 2.4–2.7 2.6
Fan Artist 284 403–850 568 1.5 2.3–3.0 2.6
Campbell Award ? 260–647 454 ? 1.9–2.2 2.1

How completely do people fill out the nomination ballots? For 1982–83, 1989, 1992–94, and 1996 (all "Other" years) I have the total numbers of votes cast by category on all the nomination ballots. Since for all of these years except 1982 we also know the number of ballots cast in each category, we can divide and obtain the average number of nominations per ballot in each category. As you can see, I have separated 1992 from the other years, since in almost every case the 1992 numbers are significantly lower than all the others. (I suspect an error in the 1992 report; for example, analysis of my 1989 data shows that the averages would typically be lowered about 0.7 if the "Total Votes Cast" actually omitted nominees with fewer than 5 votes.) In any case, it is clear that the average voter makes only about half as many nominations as are allowed. (This is not necessarily a bad thing: "Bullet-voting" for one or two nominees is certainly a rational strategy if one’s paramount aim is to get those particular nominees onto the ballot. It’s on the final ballot that failing to vote for all the nominees wastes one’s voting power.) Excluding 1992, 1996 had the lowest numbers of votes in eight categories, and the lowest ratios in four.

By the way, while I have not made a full calculation, it appears that the fraction of all votes cast for those nominees that actually make it to the final ballot varies from around 20% for Novelette and Short Story up to around 70% for Semiprozine. (The reasons are left as an exercise for the reader.) While at the other extreme, a substantial number of people pick nominees that receive only a couple of votes; just as an illustration, here’s a breakdown of the novel nominations in 1989 (for a total of 283 items):

No. Votes >50 41–50 31–40 21–30 16–20 11–15 8–10 6–7 5 4 3 2 1
No. Nominees 7 5 1 4 5 11 12 15 10 24 17 39 133

What would be the effect of changing the minimum vote to get on the final ballot? At present the only minimum is the "5% rule" (in Sec. 2.6), which requires that nominees receive votes on at least 5% of the nomination ballots cast in the category (or be among the top three vote-getters). This rule went into effect in 1982, but it has actually been invoked only in the Original Artwork category in 1994 and 1995. (However, it would have applied to the Campbell Award in 1989, to Short Story in 1994, and to Music in 1995; in each case other factors supervened . . . And in 1991 it was initially applied erroneously in eight categories.) Two motions to change this rule were defeated in 1994: one would have reduced the 5% criterion to 2% (under which nothing would ever be eliminated), the other would have replaced it with a 10-vote minimum. Other criteria have also been suggested, so it seems worthwhile to survey the data.

Here is a tabulation of the number of nominees in some recent years that would have been made ineligible by several possible criteria, in the absence of an at-least-three-nominees clause. (For 1994, I am giving the numbers as if the short-fiction category shifts had not been made, since that’s more likely to correspond to future practice.)

1996
10% Novel 2, Novelette 4 (of 6), Short Story 3, Orig. Artwork 2, Fan Writer 2, Campbell 2
10 votes Orig. Artwork 2, Campbell 1
20 votes Novelette 3 (of 6), Short Story 2, N-F Book 2, Orig. Artwork 3, Fanzine 2 (of 6), Fan Writer 3, Campbell 3
25 votes Novelette 4 (of 6), Short Story 4, N-F Book 3, Prof. Artist 2, Orig. Artwork 5, Fanzine 2 (of 6), Fan Writer 4, Fan Artist 2, Campbell 3

 

1995
5% Orig. Artwork 2, Music 3 (I can’t calculate any other percentages for 1995, since the numbers of nomination ballots per category weren’t released.)
10 votes Orig. Artwork 3, Music 4
20 votes Short Story 2 (of 6), N-F Book 3, Orig. Artwork 5, Fan Writer 2, Campbell 4, Music 4
25 votes Novelette 2 (of 6), Short Story 3 (of 6), N-F Book 3, Orig. Artwork 5, Fan Writer 3, Fan Artist 2, Campbell 5, Music 5

 

1994
5% Short Story 3 (of 6), Orig. Artwork 2
10% Novel 2, Novelette 2, Short Story 4 (of 6), N-F Book 1, Dramatic 1, Orig. Artwork 4, Fan Writer 1, Campbell 2
10 votes Orig. Artwork 1
15 votes Orig. Artwork 3
20 votes Short Story 3 (of 6), Orig. Artwork 4
25 votes Short Story 3 (of 6), N-F Book 2, Orig. Artwork 4, Fan Writer 1, Fan Artist 3 (of 6), Campbell 2

 

1993
10% Novelette 1, N-F Book 3 (of 6), Fan Writer 3, Campbell 3 (of 6)
10 votes Orig. Artwork 2
15 votes N-F Book 3 (of 6), Orig. Artwork 4, Fan Writer 3, Campbell 3 (of 6)
20 votes Novelette 1, N-F Book 4 (of 6), Orig. Artwork 4, Fan Writer 4, Fan Artist 2 (of 6), Campbell 4 (of 6)
25 votes Novelette 3, N-F Book 5 (of 6), Orig. Artwork 4, Semiprozine 1, Fanzine 2, Fan Writer 5, Fan Artist 2 (of 6), Campbell 4 (of 6)

(Previous versions of this article included data back to 1990, but this table was getting too damn long. See also Table 8 below for more information about low-vote nominees.)

One thing to bear in mind is that sometimes nominees with only a few nominating votes go on to win. The most striking case was in 1991, when Julia Ecklar got only 9 nominations for the Campbell Award, but on the final ballot led with 197 first-place votes, and won. And there are ten other cases since 1989 of nominees receiving over ten times as many first-place final votes as they had had nominations. (But nine of those were in Original Artwork, and only two of them won.) Since the electorate for the final ballot is so much larger (partly because many people haven’t had time to survey the field by the nomination deadline), it is perhaps unwise to limit their choices on the basis of the nominators’ apathy.

Table 8 — Numbers of Nominees Matching Various Criteria (1989–96 Partial)
Category No. of Nominees (89–90, 92–94, 96) Receiving No. of Nominations (89, 93–96) for
  10% 5% 10th place 15th place
  Range Average Range Average Range Average Range Average
Novel 3–10 6 12–18 15 22–49 29 16–24 19
Novella 6–12 8 14–20 16 17–23 20 11–15 13
Novelette 2–8 5 12–19 15 11–21 17 9–17 13
Short Story 1–7 4 3–14 11 11–20 14 9–13 11
Non-Fiction Book 3–7 5 7–12 9 6–17 9 4–10 6
Dramatic Pres. 4–8 6 8–11 9 10–27 18 8–19 13
Prof. Editor 6–8 7 10–13 12 13–24 18 6–16 9
Prof. Artist 5–8 7 11–16 12 10–30 17 7–18 11
Orig. Artwork* 1–3 2 3–15 9 5–7 6 5–5 5
Semiprozine 5–7 6 8–10 9 8–17 11 <5–7 5(?)
Fanzine 3–6 5 8–15 11 9–18 13 6–10 8
Fan Writer 3–5 4 8–13 10 7–13 9 5–9 7
Fan Artist 6–8 7 9–13 11 9–16 12 5–9 7
Campbell Award 2–5 3 5–11 9 5–15 9 <5–12 8(?)

(*: not including 1989 or 1995)

For how many nominees should nomination numbers be published? This is of course the subject of a Constitutional amendment we ratified in 1995. It requires publishing the numbers for all nominees down to 15th place or 5% of the ballots cast in the category, whichever is less. Might this be too low (so as to threaten the privacy of individual voters), as David Bratman suggested? For reference, Table 8 gives a summary of the data David and I supplied to Apa:WSFS in 1994, plus some data for 1995 (numbers but not percentages) and 1996. Draw your own conclusions. (But note that this table is available only because the 1989 and 1993–94 administrators did release the numbers down to 5% and 15th place. For 1990 — a "Low" year — the 15th-place numbers were generally not reported, but the 10th-place ones, in the same order as above, were: 18, 21, 11, 9, 8, 12, 16, 14, 3, <9, 11, <8, 8, 6.) For Original Artwork, the 5% figures for the six available years (including 1995) were 9, 8, 12, 3, 3, 15, with an average of 9, and the two consecutive 3’s appeared ominous; also, in 1995 there were only 5 nominations for 5th place, and no data for 10th or 15th. (1996 was somewhat better, but not a whole lot, and the category has now been eliminated.)

That’s about all the conclusions I can derive from the nominating-ballot data. (Note that the last four sections were all added since the 1988 version.) Let’s move on to the final ballots.

How many people vote in each category on the final ballot? Here we once again have numbers for every year since 1978. Table 9 gives the final-ballot vote by category (corresponding to Table 4 for the nominating ballots), and Table 10 the final-ballot percentages (corresponding to Table 5 for the nominating ballots).

Table 9 — Final Ballots by Category (1978–96)
Category Low (85, 90, 94) Other Recent Other (91–93, 95–96)
  Range Average Range Average Range Average
Novel 395–409 404 585–1532 1009 585–893 742
Novella 355–372 364 527–1253 850 527–757 613
Novelette 349–383 361 496–1320 845 496–699 609
Short Story 345–364 352 487–1228 830 487–704 607
Non-Fiction Book 313–364 344 467–1406 772 467–576 516
Dramatic Pres. 413–459 441 651–1702 1068 651–919 815
Prof. Editor 348–358 353 536–1524 900 536–736 621
Prof. Artist 330–388 363 545–1357 892 545–821 653
Original Artwork (90–95) 319–345 331 488–633 566 488–633 566
Fanzine (78–83) 842–1088 932
Semiprozine (84–95) 325–391 364 605–1179 787 605–757 655
Fanzine (84–95) 259–291 278 369–956 576 369–539 440
Fan Writer 245–305 278 386–962 649 386–491 425
Fan Artist 257–287 269 340–1030 671 340–505 409
Campbell Award 269–291 280 400–1255 748 400–592 475

For the absolute numbers in Table 9, the "Low" years clearly form a tight cluster in every category. Beyond being significantly higher, the numbers for the "Other" years are not so obviously a single population, because they are distorted by the long-term downward trend that we have already noted (cf. Table 1). This is the biggest change since 1988, when I found "no clear-cut evidence of any trend over time." Some details that make this trend especially obvious: 1980 had the highest vote counts in 10 of the 12 categories that then existed (1984 was higher for Fan Writer and Fan Artist, as well as the then-new Semiprozine). Conversely, 1995 had the lowest "Other" counts in every category except Fanzine and Fan Writer (for which 1994 was lowest); before that, 1993 was lowest in every category; and before that, 1989 was lowest in 10 categories, 1991 in the other 3. Indeed, no individual-year count since 1988 has been anywhere near as high as the corresponding category average I calculated then. The category averages have themselves fallen by an average of 152 votes since 1988 (including 17 from 1995 to 1996). (By the way, this same trend makes the 1984–96 Fanzine average appear abnormally low relative to the other fan categories, which include the higher 1978–83 data: for 1984–96, the "Other" average is 557 for Fan Writer and 561 for Fan Artist.)

Given all this evidence of a downward trend, this time around I have added a "Recent Other" tabulation, covering the last five "Other" years. The drop from earlier years is striking, but the downward trend is noticeable even within this period. Let us look at the percentages in Table 10 to see if we can eliminate the effect of the decline in the overall vote.

Table 10 — Final-Ballot Percentages by Category (1978–96)
Category Low (85, 90, 94) Other (1978–96) 1991–96 (All)
  Range Average Range Average Range Average
Novel 83–89 86 76–94 88 76–88 82
Novella 75–80 77 64–87 74 64–76 69
Novelette 72–79 76 64–84 74 64–73 68
Short Story 71–78 74 63–84 73 63–72 68
Non-Fiction Book 71–74 73 54–79 67 54–74 60
Dramatic Pres. 92–94 93 84–98 93 84–95 91
Prof. Editor 71–81 75 65–92 78 65–71 69
Prof. Artist 74–79 77 68–87 78 68–79 73
Original Artwork (90–95) 66–70 68 55–74 66 55–74 67
Fanzine (78–83) 61–79 72
Semiprozine (84–95) 73–80 77 65–80 75 65–78 74
Fanzine (84–95) 53–64 59 44–65 54 44–56 50
Fan Writer 50–64 59 42–73 56 42–55 48
Fan Artist 52–65 57 43–75 58 43–52 46
Campbell Award 55–66 59 51–79 64 51–57 53

As in Table 5, there is no significant difference between the "Low" and the "Other" years. However, the surprising thing is that the decline over time is still present! The highest percentages were in the period 1978–82 for every category that then existed (9 of 11 possible in 1978–79), and the lowest percentages for every current category were in 1991–96 (7 of 14 categories in 1996, and 4 more in 1995). And as one might expect, the "Other" averages have typically declined by several percent since 1988. To display this trend more clearly, here are the year-by-year average percentages of all the categories — that is, the percentage of final ballots that include votes in the average category (which is equivalent to the percentage of categories in which the average voter votes):

Year 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96
Average % 83 83 72 76 78 78 78 75 75 73 71 68 72 66 67 65 70 65 62

Given the downward trend, the averages for the entire period are of questionable significance; so I have included in Table 10 an additional two columns summarizing the data for the last six years only, to give some idea of what the percentages are today.

For yet another way of seeing the change over time in individual categories, here is a comparison of the 1978–88 averages (based on my 1988 article; numbers in parentheses are for shorter periods) with the 1991–96 averages:

  78–88 91–96
Novel 91 82
Novella 78 69
Novelette 77 68
Short Story 76 68
Non-Fic. Book (73) 60
Dramatic 95 91
Pro Editor 83 69
Pro Artist 80 73
Semiprozine (78) 74
Fanzine (63) 50
Fan Writer 62 48
Fan Artist 64 46
Campbell 70 53

Dramatic Presentation appears to be the only category whose voting percentage has not dropped significantly over this period (and even it has dropped some). It also nearly always has the highest vote — practically everyone votes for it — with Novel usually coming in second (the reverse of the order on the nominating ballots; the only exception was in 1987, when Novel got 914 votes and Dramatic 901). The Dramatic voting percentage has fallen below 90% only twice (88% in 1991, 84% in 1995). All this makes it clear what is really going on here: Not only is the overall number of Hugo voters decreasing, but of those who do vote, fewer and fewer are voting for the categories other than Dramatic. Do you find this as disturbing as I do?

Among the other categories, it’s surprising that Original Artwork, which on the nominating ballots was abysmally low by almost every criterion, on the final ballots was right up in the middle of the pack. (But I can’t help wondering how many of these people were voting on the basis of the artists’ names rather than the particular pieces nominated.) And the three fan categories currently average just below 50% participation, not much higher than on the nominating ballots, with the Campbell Award doing not much better.

It should be noted that there is a rule (in Sec. 2.5) that "no award shall be given whenever the total number of valid ballots cast for a specific category (excluding those cast for ‘No Award’ in first place) is less than 25% of the total number of final award ballots received." Deducting the first-place "No Award" votes will of course give percentages lower than those in Table 10. Here are all the 1980–96 instances in which the voting percentage defined in this rule has fallen below 45%:

1980: Fan Writer 42.8%
1986: Fanzine ("No Award" campaign) 44.7%, Fan Writer 44.8%
1987: Fan Artist 42.3%
1989: Fanzine 39.6%, Fan Writer 40.1%
1991: Fan Writer 40.3%, Fan Artist 41.9%
1992: Fanzine 41.5%, Fan Writer 41.8%, Fan Artist 41.8%
1993: Fan Artist 37.8%, Fanzine 39.4%, Fan Writer 41.5%, Campbell Award 44.9%
1995: Fan Artist 39.0%
1996: Fan Writer 36.1%, Fanzine 38.7%, Fan Artist 39.8%

(In recent years the fan categories often, and the Campbell Award sometimes, have fallen below 50%; Non-Fiction Book has done so once [49.8% in 1992], no other category ever since 1980.) It seems unlikely that the 25% rule will be invoked in the foreseeable future, and we could just as well do without it.

What about special categories? Note that the Hugo rules (Sec. 2.5) say a category can be cancelled "if the lack of nominations or final votes . . . shows a marked lack of interest in that category on the part of the voters"; however, there’s no definition of what this means quantitatively. The last time one of the permanent categories was dropped for lack of interest was for Dramatic Presentation in 1966 — by no coincidence, the last year before Star Trek. The special categories added by Worldcon committees are another matter. True, two such categories did well enough to be converted into permanent categories, and thus appear in the tables above: Non-Fiction Book in 1980–81 and Original Artwork in 1990 (when it wasn’t technically a Hugo). And the Other Forms category in 1988 also did fairly well (nomination range 18–118; 182 items nominated; 965 votes [82%] on the final ballot), though no other Worldcon has picked it up. (Also, in 1978–80 the Gandalf Award was still on the Hugo ballot: the Gandalf for Grand Master of Fantasy received about as many final-ballot votes as Best Novel, while the Best Fantasy Novel in 1978–79 got about 10% less.)

But other experimental categories have flopped badly, and didn’t even make it to the final ballot. Contribution to the Field (1975) was dropped because the nominations were "too diffuse" (Locus reported "141 nominations on 158 ballots," probably referring to the number of people named). Best Non–English-Language Novel (1990) was said to have an insufficient number of nominations, though no numbers were reported. Best Translator (1993) drew only 40 nominating ballots (10%), with the top 5 nominees ranging from 2 to 14 votes. And Best Music last year seems to have done even worse, with only one nominee receiving more than 7 votes. In general, it seems unproductive to have a Hugo category with which the great majority of the voters are unfamiliar, or for which the field of potential nominees is very diffuse. (These principles might also be usefully applied to some of the shakier current categories.)

How completely do people fill out the final ballots? We have data on this from 1980 and 1989. Table 11 gives the percentages of people voting in each category who filled in 1, 2, 3, . . . lines on their ballots. (In most categories there were 6 lines — 5 nominees plus "No Award" — but in a few cases there were 6 or even 7 nominees.) For both years I calculate that the average ballot had about 3.5 lines filled in in the average category. Typically, about 20% of the voters in the fiction categories, 30% in the fan categories, cast "bullet" votes for only one nominee, thus throwing away their vote if that nominee fails to win. (How much of this is due to failure to understand the preferential voting system?) At the other extreme, typically 30–45% fill out their ballots completely: voting for either 5 or 6 out of 6 nominees is equivalent, since leaving only one line blank is the same as voting it last. (By the way, when one line is left blank, about 90% of the time it’s "No Award.") The percentages for both extremes increased slightly from 1980 to 1989, but this may not be significant.

 

Table 11 — Percent of Ballots Voted for n Places (1980, 1989)
Category 1980 1989

n =

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Novel 13 13 17 11 30 15   18 13 16 8 25 20    
Novella 22 16 15 8 25 14   19 12 15 7 25 22    
Novelette 17 13 15 12 8 21 13 19 12 14 8 25 21    
Short Story 19 16 15 10 26 14   20 13 14 9 7 19 19  
Non-Fic. Book 17 15 19 10 26 14   32 13 14 5 18 18    
Dramatic Pres. 16 12 15 12 25 20   17 11 16 10 25 20    
Prof. Editor 15 14 15 9 32 16   21 14 14 8 24 19    
Prof. Artist 18 12 15 9 31 15   23 10 14 7 27 18    
Semiprozine               23 15 12 10 22 18    
Fanzine 28 19 17 7 15 15   35 12 9 7 15 23    
Fan Writer 31 17 15 5 16 15   33 10 12 7 5 10 22  
Fan Artist 29 15 16 8 4 16 13 31 14 12 6 5 12 19  
Campbell 28 22 17 8 3 13 9 33 18 11 7 4 11 9 17

As for the variations between categories, one surmises that bullet voting is more likely in those categories where fewer nominees are well known to the electorate as a whole. In both years I made separate calculations of the numbers of ballots on which each nominee was voted in any place. I won’t reproduce the details here, but as one might expect, these numbers correlated well with the order of finish — though even the winners (except for Roger Rabbit in 1989) received votes on less than 80% of the ballots voted in their categories; for the Campbell Award in 1989, the winner was voted on only 51% of the category ballots. Whether out of ignorance or apathy, it is clear that many voters fail to have as much effect on the Hugo results as they are entitled to.

How many people use the "No Award" option? There are those who are quite fond of using "No Award"; indeed, I know some people who vote it not only above things they dislike, but above anything they’re unfamiliar with. But these people are a minority, and on the whole "No Award" gets very little use. In fact, in the entire history of the Hugos "No Award" has won only five times (Dramatic Presentation in 1959/63/71/77, New Author in 1959). Time was when you could at least count on Dramatic Presentation getting a high "No Award" vote, but that’s largely vanished in the era of blockbuster SF films since Star Wars. Most years, "No Award" comes in last in every category: In the years 1980 through 1996 there were a total of 225 categories on the final Hugo ballots; in only 15 of these did "No Award" do better than last place, coming in ahead of a total of 28 nominees (out of about 1150). The only instances of "No Award" doing better than fourth place during this period were second place for Fanzine in 1986 (when there was an organized campaign urging people to vote for it), and third place for both Fanzine and Campbell Award in 1987.

Table 12 — Percentage of Ballots with "No Award" Voted Above Last Place (1980, 1989)

  1980 1989
Novel 24 25
Novella 23 23
Novelette 18 21
Short Story 23 24
Non-Fic. Book 18 25
Dramatic 42 32
Prof. Editor 20 19
Prof. Artist 17 17
Semiprozine 23
Fanzine 30 38
Fan Writer 35 38
Fan Artist 25 29
Campbell 21 35

Anyway, for the two years for which I have data, Table 12 gives the percentage of voters in each category who voted "No Award" ahead of anything else. The highest figure is for Dramatic Presentation in 1980, which as it happens was the last year when "No Award" came in higher than last place in that category (it beat The Black Hole). But usually only about a quarter of the voters in a typical category use "No Award" at all. (As with bullet-voting in Table 11, the higher numbers tend to be for the fan categories and the Campbell Award — plus Dramatic Presentation in this case.)

The Business Meeting attendees tend to be among those who want to see "No Award" win more often, so they keep coming up with gimmicks to increase its chances. Most recently, they have presented us with a rule (Sec. 2.9.3) mandating a one-on-one playoff between "No Award" and whatever wins by the conventional calculation. This has been in effect for only the last four years (1993–96), but I also have the equivalent numbers for 1989–90. Table 13 gives the results for all six years. As you can see, "No Award" never came close to beating the winners. This should hardly be surprising, since "No Award" comes in last nearly every time, usually losing next-to-last place by a substantial margin. And if it can’t even beat the least popular of the nominees, why would one expect it to do better against the winner?

Table 13 — One-on-One Preference Votes Between Winners and "No Award"
Category 1989 1990 1993 1994 1995 1996
Novel 548–129 282–45 523–41 & 475–37 (tie) 265–51 386–62 469–43
Novella 508–86 248–43 380–61 227–36 347–42 404–52
Novelette 556–48 253–39 361–68 253–18 301–51 405–51
Short Story 430–98 241–44 453–57 244–49 324–44 370–52
Non-Fiction Book 354–90 226–38 283–43 279–19 270–50 400–36
Dramatic Pres. 775–74 335–60 517–109 325–73 364–157 628–58
Prof. Editor 534–60 258–37 412–59 277–41 377–45 425–50
Prof. Artist 558–76 264–27 411–43 275–22 377–26 477–23
Original Artwork 217–35 487–40 259–44 345–51 361–51
Semiprozine 487–122 259–70 412–58 248–36 412–40 441–58
Fanzine 246–116 167–68 239–59 171–36 309–58 259–67
Fan Writer 267–85 205–40 253–64 162–34 318–62 240–69
Fan Artist 299–111 & 298–84 (tie) 178–34 215–64 162–33 194–67 262–59
Campbell 267–117 176–43 247–76 165–41 215–64 264–60

To see why this happens, we need to look at the dynamics of Hugo voting. In fact, a fair-sized minority of voters often do vote for "No Award" in first place. But (as we’ve seen in Table 12), typically three-quarters of the voters vote it last or not at all, and — the key fact — hardly anyone votes for it in second or third place. Thus, even when "No Award" is in the running for first place, it picks up very few votes as other nominees are eliminated, and practically every other surviving nominee gains on it. So it has no chance of winning unless it starts with a substantial lead in first-place votes, and even then the odds are against it. To illustrate this, let’s look at how the voting went in two of the very few cases when "No Award" was in the running to the end (names omitted to protect the losers):

Fanzine, 1986: 6:          
No Award 239 252 256 280 312  
A 153 158 180 228 322  
B 148 158 169 201    
C 102 112 140      
D 85 92        
E 78          
             
Fan Writer, 1986            
No Award 175 178 181 182 222 241
A 138 150 169 185 256 387
B 134 145 159 169 199  
C 79 89 102 165    
D 79 90 101      
E 82 84        
F 56          

(In the Fan Writer vote, although "No Award" had the most first-place votes and was the last nominee eliminated for first, it ultimately came in last, losing 320–244 to nominee D for sixth place!)

So the "No Award"–playoff rule is unlikely to have any effect on the results. Its principal effect, as with most of these epicycles added to the rules, is to create more work for the Hugo administrators — and thus to increase the probability that some inexperienced administrator will misinterpret the rules, something that has happened too often already. (Indeed, in 1991 the Hugo results were reported using a different proposed version of this rule, which at that time hadn’t even been adopted. By the way, most of this section is adapted from a manifesto that I distributed — to no avail — at that year’s Business Meeting.)

Does it really hurt an author to have two stories on the ballot in the same category? Many writers firmly believe that their chances of winning a Hugo are reduced if they have two stories on the ballot in the same category. This doesn’t seem very logical a priori, since on a preferential ballot the presence of one story shouldn’t affect a voter’s ranking of the other story. On the other hand, it’s true that in the history of the Hugos such an author has won only once (Nancy Kress in 1992). The last time I encountered an argument about this on-line, I decided to research the facts; the results follow.

This situation has come up in the fiction categories 12 /2 times in the 36 years since 1959 (before which there was no nomination ballot, and thus no "nominees"). Before 1980 the vote counts usually weren’t published, so all we have are the lists of nominees, sometimes with a partial order of finish:

For more recent years, the vote counts are available. So as not to bury you in numbers, I’ll give only the counts for the two same-author stories and the eventual winner, immediately before and immediately after the elimination of one of the two; in this way we can see where the votes for the "B" nominees went.

1981 Novella (1015 votes cast)
Dickson, "Lost Dorsai" (1st) 267 293
Martin & Tuttle, "One Wing" (2nd) 175 235
Martin, "Nightflyers" (3rd) 154  

(49 of the 154 votes went to other nominees; 19 had no next choice and were thus discarded. By the way, this was the "half" case I mentioned above.)

1981 Short Story (873 votes cast)
Simak, "Grotto of the Dancing Deer" (1st) 294 303
Duntemann, "Cold Hands" (4th) 85 105
Duntemann, "Guardian" (5th) 61  

(25 votes went to other nominees; 7 were discarded.)

1988 Novella (838 votes cast)
Card, "Eye for Eye" (1st) 220 230
Robinson, "The Blind Geometer" (3rd) 170 206
Robinson, "Mother Goddess of the World" (4th) 91  

(27 votes went to other nominees; 18 were discarded.)

1992 Novella (614 votes cast)
Kress, "Beggars in Spain" (1st) 166 199
Kress, "And Wild for to Hold" (5th) 66  

(27 votes went to other nominees; 6 were discarded.)

1992 Short Story (642 votes cast)
Landis, "A Walk in the Sun" (1st) 148 175
Resnick, "One Perfect Morning, with Jackals" (2nd) 123 143
Resnick, "Winter Solstice" (4th) 94  

(37 votes went to other nominees; 10 were discarded. The final vote for 1st place was 267–228.)

1995 Novelette (496 votes cast)
Gerrold, "The Martian Child" (1st) 101 105
Le Guin, "Solitude" (4th) 60 86
Le Guin, "The Matter of Seggri" (6th) 56  

(23 votes went to other nominees; 3 were discarded.)

1996 Novella (597 votes cast)
Steele, "The Death of Capt. Future" (1st) 161 170
Le Guin, "A Woman’s Liberation" (2nd) 138 168
Le Guin, "A Man of the People" (4th) 68  

(16 votes went to other nominees; 13 were discarded. The final vote for 1st place was 255–240.)

1996 Novelette (619 votes cast)
Kelly, "Think Like a Dinosaur" (1st) 150 163
Egan, "Luminous" (5th) 74 92
Egan, "TAP" 44  

(11 votes went to other nominees; 2 were discarded.)

Conclusions: (1) Most voters appear to vote for individual stories, not for the author, since over half the transferred votes usually go elsewhere. (2) Typically over 10% of the voters for the eliminated story "bullet-vote" to the extent of having no follow-up choice. (3) To say that an author’s stories hurt each other’s chances, we must assume that those who didn’t vote for story A after story B was eliminated would have done so if B hadn’t been on the ballot in the first place (and with another author’s story there instead, as additional competition). This seems improbable to me. (4) And in my opinion most of these stories would have lost even if the authors had withdrawn their other stories. But you can judge that for yourselves . . .

Does the nominee with the most first-place votes always win? I think just about all of you realize that the answer to this question is "No," but you might be surprised at how often it doesn’t happen. Here’s a tabulation of the number of categories each year in which the first-place leader didn’t win:

1980 2
1981 0
1982 0
1983 2
1984 5
1985 3
1986 3
1987 3
1988 2
1989 1.5
1990 5
1991 0
1992 0
1993 2
1994 4
1995 1
1996 2

(In 1989 one leader ended up in a tie for the win.) Your opinion of these results will probably depend on what you think of the Hugo voting system in general.

By the way, it is much more common for the nominee with the most nominations not to win. Here is the corresponding table for the nomination leaders. (In some years the counts for individual nominees were not announced.)

1980 6
1981 3
1982 ?
1983 ?
1984 ?
1985 6
1986 5
1987 4
1988 6
1989 7
1990 9
1991 7.5
1992 8
1993 5
1994 6
1995 5.5
1996 5

People vote quite differently in an open field than when they have a list of nominees set before them. (One factor here may be that the nomination leader often benefits from a bloc vote.)

So how well does the Hugo voting system work? Well, it depends on what you want a voting system to accomplish. I’m not going to write a treatise on electoral systems (which could easily be longer than the rest of this article), but will merely note a few significant points. For any election with more than two candidates, it can be shown that no electoral system will give an optimal result (as defined by the satisfaction of the voters) all the time. Nevertheless, some systems do work better than others . . .

The straight single-vote, plurality-win system used in most U.S. real-world elections has the virtue of simplicity: everyone understands how it works. But when no one has a majority, the candidate with the largest minority wins, even if that candidate is despised by the majority of the electorate. (An effective two-party system helps to overcome this defect, but has defects of its own; usually the minority-winner problem is merely transferred to the primaries.) And the results are distorted, because voters must make judgments like "Do I vote for A, who is my real preference; or for B, who has the best chance of beating the candidate I hate?"

The Hugo preferential-vote system, in contrast, asks for more information about the voters’ preferences, and thus is more likely to yield a satisfying result. Voters can vote according to their real preferences, without fear that this will help to produce a result they dislike. And the elimination system guarantees a choice by majority vote in the final round. But the system still isn’t perfect. In particular, candidates still need a significant number of first-place votes to be in the running: If nominee B is everyone’s second choice, it might be the most satisfactory winner; but in the Hugo system it can’t win unless it has enough first-place votes to avoid early elimination. Furthermore, the system is sufficiently complicated that a fair number of voters just don’t understand it — which of course makes it hard for them to feel comfortable about the results.

Now there are systems (which I won’t attempt to describe) that take account of even more information about the voters’ preferences, and thus are even more likely than the Hugo system to give an optimal result. Unfortunately, they are also more complicated than the Hugo system. This means that such a system would be very hard to explain to the voters, not to mention the difficulty of getting it through the Business Meeting in the first place. (There is an inherent problem in translating mathematical formulas into legalese: the two languages have different grammars.)

So the better a system is in the abstract, the harder it is for people to understand it. If I knew a way around this dilemma, I’d be engaging in real-world politics instead of this stuff . . .

Oh, yes: And when do the ballots come in? The best data on this are from 1980, when I picked up the mail every day and kept a running tally. The nomination ballots went out at the end of November (resulting in some people nominating before the year was over), with a postmark deadline of March 15. Here are the week-by-week counts of ballots received:

Dec 3–8 4
Dec 9–15 4
Dec 16–22 5
Dec 23–29 6
Dec 30–Jan 5 12
Jan 6–12 18
Jan 13–19 12
Jan 20–26 16
Jan 27–Feb 2 15
Feb 3–9 15
Feb 10–16 14
Feb 17–23 15
Feb 24–Mar 1 34
Mar 2–8 57
Mar 9–15 166
Mar 16–22 169
Mar 24 1

(11 ballots postmarked after the deadline were rejected; one valid ballot spent three weeks in the mail and arrived too late to be counted.) The final ballots were mailed on May 1, with a postmark deadline of July 15:

May 4–10 11
May 11–17 123
May 18–24 162
May 25–31 91
Jun 1–7 68
Jun 8–14 89
Jun 15–21 77
Jun 22–28 75
Jun 29–Jul 5 89
Jul 6–12 211
Jul 13–19 696
Jul 20–26 88
Jul 27–Aug 2 7
Aug 3–9 0
Aug 11 1

(32 late-postmarked ballots were rejected; the Aug 11 ballot came by sea mail from England, and was just in time to break a tie.) The striking thing about both tables is that over half the ballots came in within two weeks of the deadline;

the final ballots had a secondary peak of people who sent them in right after they arrived. While the absolute numbers weren’t as high in other years, everything I’ve heard suggests that this distribution over time is typical.

I think I’ve about run out of things to say. (By the way, the last four sections were added since 1988.) I think that voting counts of any kind are fascinating, in that they’re about as close as one can come to direct measurement of how people think. I hope that I have managed to interest you too, or at least not totally bore you.

Appendix -- Site Selection Voting

Addendum -- NASFiC Voting

[You know, the 1988 version of this thing had only 4 1/4 pages; this version had 14 pages as printed in 1994, and in this update has gone over 15 .]


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