Science Fiction Awards Watch

At a blog called The Crotchety Old Fan Steve Davidson muses on debates going on behind the scenes on the SMOFs mailing list. In this post he is talking about the proposal to limit the price of Supporting Memberships that we highlighted recently. The following section is interesting:

Then there’s the ‘buy the vote’ issue to consider. As some have pointed out, future sales of a winning property may very well justify the expenditure of the ten to twenty thousand dollars necessary to buy a win. We’re still discussing the formula (the Hugo voting and nominating process is a complicated one and isn’t subject to the simple solution of merely purchasing a majority of votes), but most of us agree that it is possible to do.

There are really only two solutions available to solve that potential problem. First is to restrict voting with a set of complicated qualifying rules designed to prevent such from happening. Possible and draconian – and still subject to manipulation.

The second solution is to make voting accessible to so many additional people that no single special interest group can possibly put together a large enough bloc to insure the success of their nefarious plans. I’m not sure where the cut-off in terms of dollars is, but I’m very sure that if the total number of voters was in the ten to 50 thousand range, no one would bother to try. And even if they did, their voice would only be one small one among many doing the same kind of thing and it could safely be ignored by those interested in maintaining the purity of the awards.

Two things come to mind immediately. Firstly, it is very worrying that there are people on the SMOFs list who are seriously discussing the idea of defining who is allowed to vote in the Hugos and who isn’t. That would be a major change to the nature of the awards. And secondly, Mr. Davidson’s second solution is very sensible.

12 Responses to “Crotchety Thoughts on the Hugos”

  1. on 25 Jun 2008 at 11:10 amMike Glyer

    Why is it “very worrying” that fans on the Smofs list are discussing Hugo voter eligibility, a subject you regularly bring up on this website, and have run polls about? Let everyone talk about it all they want, the more the merrier.

    As concerns “buying the vote,” what Steve Davidson and some of the participants in the Smofs list discussion overlook is that you cannot change the rules in a way that would have rendered impossible any of the few actual attempts people have made.

    I would argue that rules do not prevent attempted vote-buying, all they really do is dictate the form in which it has to be attempted. It’s up to Hugo administrators and committees to defeat the attempt when they see a major voting anomaly — easier said than done, but I have heard of a few times steps were taken (including one very public example in 1989).

    As for getting tens of thousands of Hugo voters… The Locus Awards are free to vote in, and the last numbers I saw (2006) they had under a thousand voters. The Hugos aren’t going to outdraw a free award poll anytime soon.

  2. on 25 Jun 2008 at 11:35 amCheryl


    It is worrying because we spend a lot of time defending the Hugos against silly charges of conspiracy. To have someone suggest on a blog that people who supposedly have a lot of influence are seriously considering, on a private email list, preventing certain classes of people from voting, gives entirely the wrong impression.

    Of course people are entitled to express opinions, but if they are going to call for restrictions on Hugo voting rights I’d prefer they did so in public (perhaps on your blog, or here) where the discussion can be clear to all. Then everyone would know what was being said and fans would have an opportunity to stand up for their right to participate in the Hugos.

    As to the difficulty of implementing such a change, I think you are entirely correct.

    Locus is, I think, claiming that they now have more voters than the Hugos. I’m hoping to get some numbers when the new issue comes out.

  3. on 25 Jun 2008 at 11:43 amKevin

    I’m not really as concerned about such discussions. Whenever any group of fans discusses this topic, someone is likely to toss out silly ideas that amount to “let’s redefine things so that only me and a few of my friends who think the same way I do can vote,” but those proposals aren’t generally taken seriously. Certainly there’s nothing out there that even comes close to some sort of actual change, just the usual sort of academic discussion of what’s possible under the current rules.

    I also don’t think that we’ll see a concerted effort to buy a Hugo Award, in the sense of one entity putting up lots of money to buy memberships for the hundreds of people it would take to outvote the field.

    I read people fretting over publishers having the tens of thousands of dollars it would take to do so and I take it assuming that their publicity people would consider it a good use of funds. There are several problems with this:

    1. I doubt any publisher’s marketing & publicity people would consider this a good way to spend scarce advertising money.

    2. It’s actually a complicated logistical exercise to do such a thing without it being noticed.

    3. Hugo Administrators are not fools and are likely to spot suspicious voting patterns. (Many people don’t seem to realize that human beings are reviewing ballots as they come in, and humans are good at pattern spotting, although conversely they sometimes see patterns where none exist.) This is how the most-notorious case was caught. Of course, there may have been past “frauds” that were so well-executed that the Administrators missed them — by definition, we’ll never know — but human review helps a great deal.

    4. Such a “purchased” Hugo would almost certainly be obvious to everyone else, and would thus prove to be hollow (which might make it easier to carry, but I digress) and prove to have the opposite effect of what was intended.

  4. on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:28 pmsteve davidson


    Where did anyone get the idea that I or anyone else on the SMOFs mailing list was discussing ‘restricting’ the vote?

    Not so. There is a huge difference between expressing a preference for ‘maintaining the integrity of the awards’ and planning ways to restrict voting.

    The class of people being discussed are a class of people already outside the voting process – non-members of WSFS.

    I’m personally in that class. I didn’t buy a WorldCon membership this year and so I can’t vote or nominate.

    Mik, restated what I was essentially saying: since the current system can potentially be gamed, I offered up one method of moving the goalpast further on down the field.

    I didn’t quote anything from the SMOFs discussion list because its inappropriate to do so: I took the SUBJECT of one of many discussions and ran with it – something that is entirely my own. I’ve not even offered these suggestions within the list – just my blog.

    If what I wrote gave the impression that there was scheming going on ‘behind the scenes’, I apologize for being unclear and state categorically that such is not the case, on my or anyone else’s part.

    I was mostly trying to get at the concept that WSFS might benefit financially from opening up the awards and that doing so could have additional benefits – nothing more and nothing less.

  5. on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:50 pmCheryl


    If you write: “First is to restrict voting with a set of complicated qualifying rules” then people will get the impression that you are talking about restricting voting.

    Besides, “The class of people being discussed are a class of people already outside the voting process – non-members of WSFS” makes my point very clearly. Everyone is entitled to vote in the Hugos, provided that they buy a membership. I find the idea that people are discussing ways in which to prevent people who do not currently join WSFS from joining at all utterly abhorrent. I’m hoping this is just another misunderstanding.

    As to WSFS benefiting from encouraging more participation, you are absolutely right, it would. A Hugo Voting Membership ought to be a real cash cow.

  6. on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:56 pmKenny Lucius

    “Why is it “very worrying” that fans on the Smofs list are discussing Hugo voter eligibility?”

    That’s a good question. It’s not as if everyone is currently eligible–only those who can pay for the privilege.

    Yet, without seeing the transcript of the discussions–which may be as innocent as “let’s raise the price”–I imagine something more sinister. Recent history has left me wary of such discussions. Civil liberties in the U.S. were abandoned with far less consternation than I would have expected, leaving me with the belief that the only people who discuss such things are those who tend toward an iron fist (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    Scientific ways of identifying suspicious behavior have progressed in the last few years, and they could be put to good use in determining the legitimacy of a Hugo ballot. Not my ballot, of course, because I don’t subject myself to such examinations unless I absolutely must fly (not that there’s anything wrong with such examinations). But I can see why the ballots of unreasonably interested parties should be viewed with (perfectly justifiable) distrust and (admirably proactive) suspicion.

    So, if such measured are needed, then I’m all for them–though I won’t be participating in them personally. I don’t expect very many fans to object, either. I don’t think I will ever expect that again.

    Please excuse my imagination–I hate it when it does that.

  7. on 25 Jun 2008 at 2:05 pmKevin


    Yet, without seeing the transcript of the discussions–which may be as innocent as “let’s raise the price”…

    Actually, there’s probably going to be a proposal this year to lower the price by capping the cost of a supporting membership to $40

    Not my ballot, of course, because I don’t subject myself to such examinations unless I absolutely must fly…

    I’m having difficulty understanding what you mean here. How would your ability to vote be connected to your willingness to fly somewhere?

  8. on 25 Jun 2008 at 2:20 pmKenny Lucius

    Kevin: I was comparing voter profiling with airport security. I wasn’t very clear because I wasn’t very serious 😉

  9. on 25 Jun 2008 at 2:27 pmMike Glyer

    Yes, Kenny, ho ho ho, what jollies you’ve given us.

  10. on 25 Jun 2008 at 3:34 pmKenny Lucius

    What? You don’t find airport security absolutely hilarious?

    My main point was this: it is worrying only because the nature of the “discussion” that SMOFs are having is sufficiently unclear to allow imaginative paranoia (as opposed to the reasonable paranoia that gave rise to the term “SMOF”).

    My secondary point was this: very few people will care one way or the other. It’s fun to vote and cheer for (or boo) the winner. It’s just an award. Not that there is anything wrong with taking it very seriously–but it’s atypical to do so.

    I think voter restriction is ultimately a bad idea, but I’m not a SMOF. I’m not even sure what a SMOF is like. But, I ask you: how can you discuss anything related to a “Secret Master of Fandom” without throwing a few conspiracy theories into the mix?

    How’s this for an idea: make every ballot part of a lottery or raffle–attendance not required. It might skew the result toward works that appeal to gamblers, but more ballots would discourage ballot buying.

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