Locus Makes Some Voters
More Equal Than Others

The winners of the Locus Awards were announced online a few weeks ago, but controversial information about the voting was revealed for the first time in the latest printed issue of Locus. Janice Gelb drew to my attention, and SF Awards Watch discussed at length Neil Clarke’s online report about the double weight given to Locus subscribers’ votes in poll – a change made after the ballots were in, and which produced different results in some categories. Clarke quotes the explanation from the new Locus:

Results were tabulated using the system put together by webmaster Mark Kelly, with Locus staffers entering votes from mail-in ballots. Results were available almost as soon as the voting closed, much sooner than back in the days of hand-counting. Non-subscribers outnumbered subscribers by so much that, in an attempt to better reflect the Locus magazine readership, we decided to change the counting system, so now subscriber votes count double. (Non-subscribers still managed to out-vote subscribers in most cases where there was disagreement.)

Torque Control’s Niall Harrison went right to the heart of the problem in his irresistibly-titled “Locus Pocus”:

I have to say I’m deeply disappointed by this. The big selling point of the Locus Awards is, or always has been to me at least, their representativeness, precisely the fact that anyone can vote and that they are thus the best barometer of community-wide opinion that we have. As the notes at the start of this year’s result somewhat smugly put it, “We get more votes than the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy nominations combined … Nominees need at least 20 votes to make the final list, even though it frequently takes less to make the Hugo or Nebula publishing ballots.” All of that is still true, but it seems wrong to imply (as I think it’s intended to imply) that this legitimizes the results when you’ve just changed the scoring system to make some voters more equal than others — particularly if you only make the change after voting has closed, particularly if you only mention it in the print version of the magazine.

It’s hard to say which harms Locus’ reputation more, the way online participation was invited and then discounted after the fact, or that the change was not handled transparently online once it was decided. Further, the change seems to suggest that the Locus staff was unprepared to have the poll dominated by the views of fans attracted by free online voting. Anyone who didn’t predict that nonpaying voters would outnumber paying voters probably should be looking for work outside the science fiction field.

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More Equal Than Others

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