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.