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Hugo voting: Don't forget the lower-profile categories!

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Here's the other Hugo-voting-subtleties post that I decided not to post because it didn't seem likely to be relevant. It, too, seems slightly more likely to be relevant now that we know how surprisingly many new voters there are, but still probably won't be an issue. I'm going to leave my speculation about numbers intact from my original post, and then add a followup based on the newly revealed actual number of ballots cast.

I suspect that a lot of Hugo voters are voting only in the fiction categories and the dramatic-presentation categories. So I wanted to put in a plug for also voting in the lower-profile categories (assuming you have opinions about them).

I'm recommending that partly on general principles, but partly because if a category doesn't get enough votes, then there won't be an award in that category.

Specifically, the official Hugo rules say:

No Award shall be given whenever the total number of valid ballots cast for a specific category (excluding those cast for “No Award” in first place) is less than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total number of final Award ballots received.

In other words, imagine that this year 2,400 ballots are received. That would mean that if any category received fewer than 600 ballots, there would be no award in that category.

The intent of the rule, I assume, is to not give an award in a category that the voters don't show much interest in.

That's not normally a problem. For example, in 2013, there were 1,848 total ballots cast, so the threshold for giving an award in a given category was 462. The lowest-turnout category was Best Fanzine, which received 820 ballots, far above the threshold level.

So why am I even bringing up this issue? Because this year is unusual.

In particular, this year The Wheel of Time is on the ballot in the novel category. My entirely unscientific sampling suggests that quite a few people may have bought supporting memberships in WorldCon this year primarily in order to receive a free ebook copy of that entire series.

So imagine that this year, 1,550 Wheel of Time fans who wouldn't normally have voted in the Hugos bought supporting memberships and voted—and imagine that the only thing any of them cared about on the Hugo ballot was the Novel category.

If all the other numbers were in line with last year, that would mean a total of about 3,400 ballots cast. Which would mean each category would need to get at least 850 ballots in order to give an award. Which could conceivably mean that, if the Fanzine, Fancast, and Fan Writer categories didn't get any more voters than last year, then there would be no award given in any of those three categories.

My gut feeling is that this is an unlikely scenario. I don't think that 1,500 Wheel of Time-only fans are voting; I don't even think that there'll be 1,500 new fiction-only voters across all fiction categories.

And I definitely don't want to encourage anyone to vote in a category that they don't know anything about. If you're unfamiliar with most of the nominees in the fan categories, then I don't recommend voting in those categories.

But still, one or more categories failing the 25% rule seems like a vague possibility this year.

And now for a present-day update: It turns out that this year, there were 3,587 valid ballots cast, more than one and a half times as many as the previous record, which was set in 2011.

So, far beyond my expectations, there were 1,739 more voters this year than last year. Which also means there were about 1,500 more voters this year than in 2011. Which probably means that there were at least 1,500 voters who had never voted before. (Hard to know for sure, of course, but I would guess that's a reasonable lower bound.)

However, I would be very surprised if none of those 1,500 new voters voted in the low-turnout categories.

Given 3,587 ballots, the 25% rule says that if a category doesn't receive at least 897 ballots, then no award will be given in that category. As noted above, last year the lowest-turnout category, Best Fanzine, received 820 ballots. Which I think is roughly the same as most recent years. So I think it's safe to say that there are 800+ regular voters in the fan categories. So if everyone who voted in those categories last year did so again this year, and if 80 more voters also voted in those categories, which seems quite plausible to me (that's only 5% of all the new voters), then even the low-turnout categories will pass the 25% rule.

So I don't think there's anything to worry about. But a couple of categories will probably be a whole lot closer to failing the 25% rule than they've ever been before.

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