Science Fiction Awards Watch

How The Hugos Work: A Podcast

It being that time of year, Kevin and I have done a podcast in which we answered questions about the Hugo Awards from some invited guests. The guests were:

Without further ado, here’s the podcast.

The podcast is published through the Salon Futura feed. If you have difficulty listening to it on this site you can also find it here, or via iTunes.

If anything isn’t clear, or you have follow-up questions, please comment below. If there are enough good questions we may do another podcast.

8 Responses to “How The Hugos Work: A Podcast”

  1. on 08 Feb 2011 at 4:06 amHow the Hugo’s Work. :

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  3. on 09 Feb 2011 at 6:16 amPaul

    First, I would like to thank all of the participants, and thank John for picking my question to be one of the ones asked.

    I can think of plenty of follow up questions. Here are a couple for you not covered in the podcast…

    How does the voting population (in terms of numbers) of the other awards (e.g. the Nebulas and Locus Awards) compare to the Hugos?

    How did the odd ranked choice voting system of the Hugos get started? How does this compare to other awards? (Although its a bit of inside baseball and I understand it, you might want to devote a segment to just explaining the system, period)

  4. on 09 Feb 2011 at 8:08 amKevin

    Paul: The preferential balloting system used for the Hugo Awards, Worldcon Site Selection, and other WSFS elections — now becoming better known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) — appears to date back at least to the 1960s and thus predates my entry to fandom. I do not, off the top of my head, know how it was introduced to the selection process, but I’m glad it’s there, because it’s clearly more fair than using “first past the post” voting (the election used in most “mundane” elections) for selecting a winner that is preferred by a majority of the electorate.

    IRV simulates multiple rounds of run-off elections. As you know, you mark your ballot by saying “Who do I want to win from among these choices?” and putting a 1 by that choice. Then you should look at the ballot again and say, “Among the remaining choices, who would I prefer win?” and put a 2 by that choice, and then repeat this process until either you run out of choices or don’t care anymore, at which point you should leave the remaining choices blank. We then count the 1s and if any candidate has a majority, that candidate wins. If nobody has a majority — and in a six-way race including None of the Above, it’s very rare for anyone to have a majority of the votes after one round — we then drop the last-place candidate and look at the ballots that marked that candidate first, redistributing the ballots based on those voters’ second choices. (Some will have no further preferences, having marked only one choice, and will be set aside.) We then count again, and unless a candidate now has a majority, we repeat the process of dropping the last-place candidate and redistributing the votes until a candidate has a majority.

    This process tends to converge on a candidate that is the preferred choice of a majority of the voters, even if not necessarily their first choice. It favors non-polarizing candidates. For example, if there is a work with a strong fan base but which is disliked by everyone else, that work is highly unlikely to win because while it will get many first-place votes, it won’t pick up any more votes because everyone else will vote for other candidates. There have been cases where works that had the most first-place votes (and would thus have won a “first past the post” election) ended up placing last once all of the votes were counted. If you only get first-place and last-place votes on people’s ballots, the only way you’ll win is if you can sweep a majority on the first round, which as I said above is quite rare.

    IRV is the method used in Australian governmental elections, and it is starting to gain some traction elsewhere as well. It was, for instance, used in the mayoral election for the city of Oakland, California last year, and it had a big impact there. The candidate who had the most first-place votes did not have a majority, and when the lower-place votes were redistributed, the candidate who had placed second after the initial round ended up winning the election. This is probably because in an IRV election, voters know they aren’t “wasting” their votes and are free to vote for a “minor” candidate who they know is unlikely to win but who is their real first preference. They can safely vote for that candidate while using their subsequent preference to vote among the major candidates.

    Although it is not without its critics, I think that IRV is one of the fairer ways of selecting our award winners from among a larger field of candidates. It’s certainly better than just having one blank space and selecting whatever work gets the most “bullet votes” regardless of what percentage of the overall vote the work got. (This appears to have been how the first few Hugo Awards worked, which may explain how They’d Rather be Right won a Hugo Award.)

  5. on 09 Feb 2011 at 10:32 amCheryl

    With respect to the other part of your question, the problem with comparing the Hugos to those other awards is that Locus and SFWA are private organizations and are not necessarily as forthcoming with data as WSFS is.

    My gut feeling is that fewer people participate in the Nebula voting than in the Hugos, whereas more people participate in the Locus awards than in the Hugos, but that’s based largely on how easy it is to become eligible to participate, not on any hard data.

  6. on 03 Mar 2011 at 8:54 amkaren wester newton

    Kevin– thank you so much! I have read I don’t know how many explanation of Hugo voting and I never got it until you explained it so succinctly.

  7. on 03 Mar 2011 at 9:01 amKevin

    Karen: I’m delighted to be able to explain things in a way that helps people. The more people who know how to vote intelligently, the better!

  8. on 03 Mar 2011 at 9:39 amPaul

    Thanks again for the information and the followup.

    The more informed and active nominators and voters there are, the better the Hugo awards will reflect the field as a whole.