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July 5th, 2019

My tweets

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It’s the time of year when people start to think about ways in which the Hugo process can be improved. I have two small tweaks to propose, one of which is really technical and the other intended to make the award a bit more special. If I can get a co-sponsor or co-sponsors for either of them (needs to b a member, but not necessarily an attending member, of Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon) I will put them forward to the WSFS Business Meeting this year; if passed there, they will still need to be ratified at next year’s Worldcon, CoNZealand, before coming into force.

I have not yet got co-sponsors for either; expressions of interest very welcome.

1) No deadline for nominations eligibility

Proposal: remove the struck-through words in the Constitution.
3.7.1: The Worldcon Committee shall conduct a poll to select the finalists for the Award voting. Each member of the administering Worldcon or the immediately preceding Worldcon as of the end of the previous calendar year shall be allowed to make up to five (5) equally weighted nominations in every category.
Explanation: At present, those who want to nominate for the Hugos must either be members of the previous year’s Worldcon, or have joined the current Worldcon before 31 December of the previous year.

Until recently, the deadline was 31 January. The move to make it a month earlier (proposed by Nicholas Whyte and Kathryn Duval in 2017, ratified in 2018) was partly prompted to fit with the then proposed three-stage nominations process (which did not pass) and partly inspired by tidiness (no other date is in the constitution).

In practice, it has led to some frustration among members who join after 31 December and who did not realise that there was a deadline.

From the administrator’s point of view, it is actually much easier to give new members nominating rights, up to the deadline, than to exclude them.

This does carry a certain risk of entryism, with people joining at the last minute as part of a campaign. The deterrent here is social: Hugo voters have now demonstrated that they will react strongly against any such moves by voting for No Award ahead of finalists who have reached the ballot as a result of such campaigns.

2) Five and five

Proposal: to amend the Constitution thus:
3.8.1: Except as provided below, the final Award ballots shall list in each category the six five eligible nominees receiving the most nominations as determined by the process described in Section 3.9.
Explanation: “Five and six” was one of the reforms made in 2015-16 to minimise the future effects of block voting. It already has a 2022 sunset clause and a provision that any business meeting may suspend its operation for the following year’s Hugos.

After three years, we now have enough information to be clear: EPH does make a difference to deter bad actors, “Five and six” rather less. On the other hand, having 20% more finalists does significantly increase the administrative and financial burden on each year’s Worldcon, as anyone who has been to a recent pre-Hugo reception can testify.

In addition, the burden placed by the Hugo process on diligent readers has also increased in recent years, with the addition of a new category of novels (the Lodestar) and especially of the Best Series category. In 2019 there are 31 categories in the Hugo Awards, a record. It would be a kindness to voters to reduce the required reading from six finalists per category back to five.

Although there is a 2022 sunset clause for “Five and Six”, realistically we already have enough information to repeal it now, and to make life a little easier for Hugo administrators and voters in 2021 and 2022.

The losers will be those who had placed sixth in recent years. There is only one case of a sixth-placed finalist at nominations stage going on to win the Hugo in the last three years (the rather odd situation of Best Fan Artist in 2017, where two finalists were disqualified). On the other hand, a reduced pool of finalists increases the cachet of being among that number.

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