We are getting some interesting comments in on how to improve participation in the Hugos at this post. These include:
- A prize draw for voters
- Lower cost (or free) voting
- On-site voting
These are all things that would probably increase participation, but it is perhaps worthwhile to sit back for a moment and think about what we are trying to achieve.
Some of the people calling for more participation are doing so because they think that a larger electorate would make it more likely that their favored nominees would win. In some cases this is clearly true. For example, the books that Jim Baen edited are avowedly mass market, so a wider electorate might be expected to favor Baen over Nielsen Hayden or Hartwell. But consider what might happen to Best Novel. The more people who vote, the more the Hugos will resemble the best seller lists. And that probably means a ballot full of names like Robert Jordan, Kevin J Anderson and Michael Crichton, and a long series of victories for JK Rowling. That may not be the result that people advocating greater participation are anticipating.
More generally people seem to think that a low number of voters somehow reflects badly on the prestige of the Hugos: that it means that the winners are chosen by a small and unrepresentative cabal rather than by The People. There is a view that the sheer number of people involved somehow lends authority and prestige to the results. That may indeed be so, but it that case we should be wary of doing anything that might reflect badly on the awards and diminish their prestige.
Take the prize draw, for example. It probably will encourage more people to vote. But elsewhere Francis complains that one of the problems with the Hugos is that people express an opinion on categories they know little about simply because they have the right to vote in them. Would a prize draw leave the awards open to the accusation that people were voting simply to win the prize, and didn’t care who or what they voted for?
And what about at-con voting? We know what happens with site selection, which is voted for at the convention. There are bid parties. Lots of money gets spent on them. If Hugo voting took place at-con, how long would it be before publishers started holding “Vote for our book” parties, and how soon after would nominees for Best Professional Artist or even Best Fan Writer feel obliged to follow suit. Do we really want the Hugos to be derided as the awards for the people who throw the best parties at Worldcon?
Of course these things won’t necessarily happen, but they are worth bearing in mind. Changing the Hugo rules is like making a wish: you have to be careful, because you might get what you asked for without realizing what it would entail.
And finally, as it is a related topic, here’s a post from a disappointed Kansas City supporter about how horribly undemocratic WSFS is.