Will E Pluribus Hugo
Survive Re-Ratification?

An answer from an episode of Jeopardy! aired in 2017.

The day of reckoning is here for E Pluribus Hugo.  The change in the way Hugo Awards nominations are counted was passed in 2015 and ratified in 2016 to counter how Sad and Rabid Puppies’ slates dictated most of finalists on the Hugo ballots in those years. It came with a 2022 sunset clause attached, and E Pluribus Hugo must be re-ratified this year in order to remain part of the WSFS Constitution.

It’s the first item of passed-on business in the Chicon 8 Business Meeting Agenda. (If you want to read the rule, you’ll find it quoted on page 30.) Six Hugo ballots (2017-2022) have been produced using EPH, however, if re-ratification looks automatic to you, don’t take that for granted. The arguments used to try and stop it from passing the first time still have adherents and may be heard again when ratification comes up at this year’s Business Meeting. Some of them are –

IT’S HARD TO EXPLAIN. What was the nominating system before EPH? The five eligible nominees with the most votes made the ballot (and in case of a tie including fifth place, all the tied eligible nominees were listed). That’s easy to remember. Easy to explain.

“Vox Day’s bloc voters dictated nearly all the finalists on the ballot” is also much easier to explain than EPH. Ease of explanation is not the only priority in play.

EPH DOESN’T GET RID OF SLATED NOMINEES. That’s right. EPH doesn’t get rid of slated nominees. People initially may have wished for an algorithm that would somehow weed out slate candidates, however, upon sober reflection it had to be admitted these slate voters had paid their memberships and it would be undemocratic to prevent their legal votes from having an effect on the finalists. What EPH was represented to do, and does, is make it more likely some nonslate nominees will also make the final ballot, giving people something to vote for beside No Award if they are opposed to the slated nominees.

EPH DIDN’T DETER SLATING ACTIVITY. Some will argue that neither EPH, nor anything else the business meeting did (like adding “4 and 6”) stopped Vox Day and his confederates from placing things on the ballot. And when their efforts diminished, whatever caused that to happen had nothing to do with the rules changes.

EPH received first passage in 2015. Before it was ratified, Vox Day turned around and ran another slate in 2016 and placed 61 of his picks on the final ballot. It was only because of the passage of EPH that Vox Day changed his strategy with his 2017 slate, making it one item per category (in most of them) — and 16 of his 22 picks had enough support to make the ballot. (In the end, because he didn’t check the eligibility of what was on his list, 5 of those items were kicked off — still leaving 11. Which was a lot less than 61.) The evidence is that EPH is what changed his behavior. What’s more, Vox Day himself said that’s what changed his behavior. [Internet Archive].

UNDER EPH, THE HUGO ADMINISTRATOR’S WORK CAN’T BE CHECKED; IT’S A “MAGIC BOX”. When people make this argument, it seems clear to me they’re visualizing the voting statistics that are published after the winners are announced, and how easy it is to check the spreadsheet arithmetic for the winners. They seem to overlook that under the old system it also was not possible to check the Hugo Administrator’s work in the nominating phase. The public could never review what the Hugo Administrator did to verify voter eligibility, or perfect the data prior to input (correcting all the mismatched ways of expressing a name or title). The public could only see the bottom line result — the totals in each category’s longlist.

If people believe the Hugo Administrator is competent to operate the software that generates the totals for the winners, it is reasonable to ask them to have the same faith in the person’s ability to operate the EPH software to determine the finalists.

EPH REWARDS SINGLE-BULLET VOTING. The contention is that there is a sense in which EPH is antidemocratic because it rewards single-bullet voting.

That there is a reward for the behavior appears to be accurate. Nicholas Whyte told the business meeting after he ran the 2017 Hugos, the first under EPH, that his “conclusion was that EPH made it relatively easier in 2017 for a nominee with a large number of bullet votes to get on the ballot; it made it much more difficult for a slate to get more than one candidate on the ballot.”

Since Vox Day’s 2017 slate only had one entry in each category for which he made a pick, it would have been a candidate for single-bullet voting. But again, EPH is designed to open the ballot to others, not to make it impossible for a slate nominee to become a finalist.  

EPH WAS PASSED IN A “PANIC”. I’ve seen an opponent characterize as “panic” the decisions made about EPH at two different years’ business meetings. But really? This was probably the most thoroughly-discussed proposal in the history of the WSFS Constitution. Besides everything said on Making Light where it originated, File 770 posts on the topic received hundreds of comments. For example: “E Pluribus Hugo Tested With Anonymized 2015 Data” 2/8/2016 – 407 comments. “Analyzing EPH” 5/16/2016 – 356 comments. The hours of discussion at the business meetings were just the tip of the iceberg.

THE THREAT IS GONE, SO THE CHANGES CAN BE DISCARDED. Any analyst could have seen from the voting statistics published over the years that it was theoretically possible to monopolize the final Hugo ballot. What kept that from happening? It wasn’t worth the expense for people who have no interest in the Worldcon to buy memberships so they could vote. Until it was. Until it became an expression of Sad and Rabid Puppy tribal loyalty.

However, some will argue that the threat they represented has gone away. The protections adopted against them made the process less transparent and less fair and should be dismantled.

Yes, there are people who think the slate-driven Hugo ballots of 2015 and 2016 were more fair than the present arrangement.

If you’re not one of them, and considering all the hard political work the community had to do to overcome the damage from the Puppies by passing and ratifying the existing rules changes, it doesn’t make sense to reopen a known vulnerability.

62 thoughts on “Will E Pluribus Hugo
Survive Re-Ratification?

  1. Pingback: The impact of EPH | From the Heart of Europe

  2. After I posted my previous comment here, I found an incomplete analysis of the 2017 Best Fancast voting that I had started writing on my Google Drive a few days after Worldcon that year. You can read it here to get an idea of the kind of information one can extract from the published EPH tables with a bit of hand analysis. The underlying spreadsheet I used to analyze the tables is here, if you would like to try your hand at this or one of the other categories that year. Each page starts with the published table for that category, followed by the megaPoints version (multiplying by 60) and then the differences between consecutive columns of the megaPoints version, followed by a space for manual trial allocations of the votes for an eliminated entry into solo, 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way groups (filled in by me for the Fancast page). The solo votes are known for sure by looking at the difference in total points from one column to the next. Trial allocations can be checked by making sure the difference with the known total votes and total points for that column are both 0.

    For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ll quote my results on Storyological, which was eliminated in round 77 of 83:

    Storyological at the time of its elimination had 14 solo votes, 1 3-way with Fansplaining and Fangirl Happy Hour, and 7 2-ways: 1 with Coode Street, 1 with Fangirl Happy Hour, 1 with Tea and Jeopardy, 3 with Skiffy and Fanty, and 1 with Down and Safe. On the incoming side, Stoyological got 10 points when StarShipSofa was eliminated. This must represent a 3-way becoming a 2-way. Normally 10 points could represent two 4-ways becoming 3-ways, but here Storyological only had one 3-way at the time of its elimination, so we can rule this possibility out. So one of the above-mentioned 2-ways must have started as a 3-way with StarShipSofa, Storyological, and one of the above-named partners.

    Some people might be a little freaked out on learning how much you can figure out about voting groups within a category from the published table, but I note that (a) none of this can be tracked back to a specific voter unless they choose to disclose information about what was on their nominating ballot that year and (b) none of this analysis gives you any information about ballots that crosses categories (again, unless a voter chooses to disclose this information). What this kind of analysis would do, if published, would be to let some voters who voted for an eliminated long-list entry go either “Hey, that’s my ballot being described there, being processed correctly!” or “Hey, my ballot should have appeared in that list of groups, but it didn’t – I call shenanigans!”

    I note that Best Fancast that year is one category where we know the Puppies didn’t bullet-vote that year: there were two long list entries (one of which was a known Puppy favorite) that shared a lot of votes and didn’t overlap with the votes for any other long list entry. It effectively became a bullet vote after the weaker entry was eliminated in round 81 (of 83). This is EPH doing what it was intended to do against this mini-slate.

  3. @Dave Wallace: So EPH is considerably more transparent than the previous method, in the sense that the voters can understand from the results what the anonymous voters were preferring, even if it’s a bit harder to process the ballots into results. This will be useful information for the Business meeting to use to make an informed decision.

  4. @Mike Glyer: Excellent post, thank you!

    @Various: Interesting comments (er, mostly)!

    @Chris R: “@Tom if it’s anything like Excel, it’ll incorrectly assume one of the finalists is a date.”

    ROFL for truth!

    @Business Meeting: I’ll be there!

  5. Kendall: @Business Meeting: I’ll be there!

    There seems to be potential for a de facto File770 meet-up here. Business (meeting) first, brunch (and mimosas?) after.

    I’ll be the short white gal with the long brown braid and with tatted lace on her grubby N95 mask. Most likely I’ll be knitting, too, though that’s hardly an identifying detail at WorldCon. Anyways, would be cool to meet you in the f2f.

  6. I’ll also be a Chicon 8, but not at the business meeting. I think EPH should be retained even though I don’t attend the Hugos either.

  7. @Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little: Sounds good, but can we bring mimosas to the meeting? 😉

    (Caveat: I don’t know what panels I may want to attend after the biz meeting.)

    Cool mask bling; thanks for the link!

    I’ll be the, er, let’s say pudgy, to be kind to me . . . white guy with a ponytail and an Asian-inspired dragon tattoo wrapped around my lower left arm. If that’s not distincitive enough, I need to form a “Worldcon members with ponytails and dragon-and/or-left-arm-tattoos” group to meet all my doppelgängers! 😀

    @Various: If you see me, feel free to say hi, but please keep in mind I’m a shy introvert, blush (and/or may be on the way somewhere).

  8. Unfortunately I won’t be at Chicon – so I’ll be the empty chair near the back at the Business Meeting.

  9. Hi all! There will be a post coming up soon with a list or Filer participants in Programming and three suggested meetups for Filers. Keep your eyes open.

  10. Pingback: EPH Re-Ratified, Pro-Ukraine and Anti-Lukianenko Resolutions Passed by Chicon 8 Business Meeting | File 770

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