Over at James Nicoll’s LiveJournal we find a new rash of people complaining that they are not qualified to vote in awards because they haven’t read enough of the field.
People, this is not what a popular vote award is all about. If you have a juried award then the judges have a duty to read all of the books submitted/recommended to them. If you have a list of nominees to choose from, such as the final ballot in the Hugos, then there is an expectation that you will read all of the nominees because there are only a few of them. But an open popular vote award, such as the nomination stage of the Hugos, or the Locus Awards, does not work like that.
Nicholl says he doesn’t read enough to be qualified to vote, but if he isn’t, who is? He reads a lot more than most people. Indeed, if the requirement was that you read “all of the field”, or even a majority of it, then no one would be qualified to vote. That’s clearly a ridiculous conclusion, so the argument must be ridiculous.
Popular vote awards are designed to find out what is popular. So when an award says “best” what it really means is “most popular”. The process of finding out what is “most popular” is statistical. You ask a large number of people which books (or stories or movies, etc.) they liked, and you add up all of their individual votes. Those works that get the most votes are, by definition, the most popular.
So to be qualified to vote in a popular vote award, all you have to do is to have read (or viewed) something that you thought was good. No other qualification is required.
Now of course you may think that the whole idea of a popular vote award is stupid, and that awards ought to only be given out by experts who are in a position to know what is “best”. But there are plenty of awards out there, and if you think that way all you need to do is pay attention to the World Fantasy Awards or the Clarke or the other awards that have juries.
One thing, however, is certain. If you don’t vote in a popular vote award then your views as to what is good won’t be included in the statistical process, and so the sort of works you like will be less likely to win. The only effect of taking this high moral stance and disqualifying yourself from voting is to hand control of the process to other people. And if you do that then you have no right to complain about the results.