Light in the Bushel No. 3 - October, 1986
Alexis Gilliland

Alexis Gilliland
4030 8th Street South
Arlington, VA 22204
A word on the Australian ballot, which you describe as byzantinely overcomplexified while seeming to feel it somewhat less than totally fair.

In a two person race, in which an odd number of valid votes are cast, one of the two will win with a simple majority. (When an even number of votes are cast, a tie is possible, though fairly unlikely.) When three or more are in the race, it is possible for no one to have a majority. If you are content to have the prize awarded for the maximum number of first place votes life is beautiful, and this is the method used in the primaries of several states. Why? Because the number of votes is too large to manipulate as a data base.

Still, selecting a candidate with 18 percent of an electoral turnout of seven percent makes some people uneasy. Vox populi, vox Dei, but 1.26 percent is the vox Dei? Some states have the requirement that the winner must achieve a plurality of 35 percent or face a runoff with the runner-up. Even though a second election is a troublesome expense.

Which brings us to the Australian ballot, which the Australians politely decline to own. Taking as an example the Fan Artist category for 1986, we find that there were 796 ballots, of which joan hanke-woods got 188 (23.6%), Bill Rotsler 170 (21.4%), Brad Foster 150 (18.8%), Noah Ward 131 (16.4%), Stu Shtffman 93 (11.7%), and Steve Fox 61 (7.7%). When we eliminate Fox, we find that his 61 votes were split 0 for Noah Ward, 6 for Shiffman, 6 for Rotsler, 12 for hanke-woods, and 31 for Foster--55, plus 6 with no second choice.

Suppose we choose not to use the Australian ballot, but cast only a single vote in the category. By stating that the plurality of first-place votes wins, there is obviously no need to ask for ranking votes. Most voters are knowledgeable enough about the election process and haves some idea about who the strong contenders are. The bulk of the 31 second place votes for Brad Foster might well have gone to Foster initially, and the same for the 12 votes for hanke-woods, and 6 votes for Rotsler. Will you vote for someone you know will lose, when you could vote for someone you like almost as well who might win? Many people will not.

The point is that a straight plurality win will also distort the vote. How? By causing the voter to consider not only whom he likes, but also how good their chances are. Some people who liked Fox first and Foster second would not vote for Fox, because they thought Foster had a better chance. Which means that to win, you have to be seen as a winner.

The Australian ballot gives Joe Voter the opportunity to vote for the people he likes in the order that he likes them, without having to worry about what other people think. Something wrong with a system like that? Of course. But a perfect system does not exist. Note that a simple majority wins on the first ballot a la Mike Whelan. If you're good enough you don't have to tally up the second and third and fourth place votes. If you aren't, like me, you take your Hugo any way you can get it.

((I concede that since a true run-off election for the Hugos will never be feasible, no system will ever guarantee a winner the majority of first-place ballots, and I can live with that. On the subject of the Australian ballot's "byzantine complexity," I would note that when the ballot administrators conduct a runoff to determine rankings for the runners-up, they not only get a different order than you would counting first-place votes, but a different order than how the nominees dropped out of the race while the votes to determine the winner were being tallied. That's the kind of thing that makes me dubious about how much validity some of these numbers have--aside from the question of how much serious judgment a voter is exercising by the time he's down to deciding whether a story was his third-, fourth-, or fifth-favorite.))

Buck Coulson
2677 W 50ON
Hartford City, IN 47348
Well, on Hugos, if we'd used the vote-just-for-one principle this year, Tiptree would have won the novella, and No Award would have won the fanzine and fanwriter awards, and I don't think we'd have been better off. Tiptree and Cherryh were the least bad of the nominated novellas, but I may actually have voted No Award in that one; I didn't like any of the nominees, and my preference for Tiptree winning is not very great. In the fan categories, I'm a bit disgruntled that the Sour Grapes Campaign could swing that many votes, and I'm extremely happy that it didn't manage to win. Of course, we shouldn't have fan Hugos anyway; the spectacle of a group of people voting themselves awards has never been very edifying. Look at the Oscars, for god's sake. However, that's a different argument, and as long as we have them we should avoid letting a bunch of snotty sons of bitches dictate them.

((One thing we will have to live with is that the Hugos represent the votes of whoever is eligible to cast a ballot, and if a majority of voters are ever ignorant enough to choose "No Award" out of unfamiliarity with the nominees, that will be an unfortunate fact of life. This year, though, quite a few people seemed upset that those sending in nominating ballots were not our kind of people. In all fairness, I must admit there are political considerations to the flare-up. At Worldcon, ST-zine editor Katharine Scarritt pretty much admitted that a gang supported Universal Translator not because they considered it anything like a good fanzine (it's a media-zine directory), but because they considered it the best contender to score points with by getting it onto the ballot. She also claimed ST fans had sent in nominating ballots for their favorite ST zines and had them rejected, which Moshe Feder replied was a goddamn lie. Mike Rogers said it was possible that a con committee had decided the zines classified as Semiprozines, and they failed to got enough ballots to make that category.))

Anyway, changing the voting method would have changed three awards out of 13 given. And considerable is wrong with your arithmetic, if Gilliland won on the fifth ballot, then he got more fourth-place votes than Foster; it's impossible to win with a lot of fifth-place votes, which Foster must have had, incidentally. If Foster was ahead until the fifth ballot, then a lot of people obviously thought that he was the least of the nominees.

Mike Glicksohn
508 Windermere Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M6S 3L6
Canada
I've been a fan for over twenty years now and I've voted in every fan Hugo category during that time and it strikes me that it's more or less inertia that retains the so-called Australian ballot system. (Most Australians deny any knowledge of the thing, much as the French refuse to accept culinary blame for "french fries.") As I recall, when I first became a fan there was a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the system and a fair amount of space was spent by its supporters "proving" that it was the most reliable. But certainly in the last 15 years or so it's been used just because "things have always been done that way." Perhaps it's time to try something else? Surely whatever system we use it should be time that the actual Hugo ballots were computerized? It seems ludicrous to have the science fiction achievement awards run with paper ballots that are counted by hand. Perhaps a weighted point system of, say, five points for a first place vote, four for a second and so on down the line with the winner being the nominee with the greatest number of points? Admittedly it leaves the possibility of a tie but since the Australian system apparently isn't foolproof I don't see that as much of a problem. But I can guarantee you this: if anyone puts forth a motion to change the voting system next worldcon's business meeting will be largely taken up with people proving that the Australian system is the fairest known to man. And who knows, they may even be right!

Despite what you say I think it's impossible to discount the effect of the "No Award" campaign on this year's Hugos. The fact that No Award did so well in Fan Writer is more likely to be because people seeing the ad applied the same criteria in that category than to the ad being ineffective. The obvious fact is that No Award stood higher than it usually has in these categories and there has to be some reason for that. I'm inclined to believe the ad campaign and the resultant discussion amongst interested parties was responsible since the alternative is a sudden awakening of common sense in a large number of Hugo voters and I find that explanation highly implausible. ((But isn't it also possible that voters who otherwise might not have marked a preference in the Fan Writer category were inspired by the ad to consider No Award a worthy option? An alternative is to believe the informed opinion considered neither Don D'Ammassa, nor Dave Langford, among others, Hugo-worthy.))

As to the fact that most of the signers of that ad hadn't participated in the nominating process, well, yes, that's decidedly unfortunate. I would certainly have appreciated their putting their money where their mouth was. As I did. And as I've done for the last twenty years. But the obvious truth of the matter is that their opinions are just as valid whether they nominated or not. I don't vote in the US elections but that doesn't mean I'm not entitled to express an opinion on the relative merits of the candidates. Whether or not you give any credence to that opinion should be based only on how much credibility I have as an observer of the scene in question. The same is true of the ad and of the people who signed it.) ((True. But hasn't the real problem with the Fan Hugos always been that the people who act as if they had the biggest stake in the results leave control of the outcome to others?))

We Also
Heard From
HARRY ANDRUSCHAK sends a COA (P.O. Box 1422, Arcadia, CA. 91006); T.K. ATHERTON, keeping the underground comics tradition alive; ALLAN BEATTY promises to pub real soon now; SHERYL BIRKHEAD puts in a word for a weighted-point voting system, and for zines with the continuity of a "one-fanartist" layout, which lastish had more-or-less, sorta; ROBERT BLOCH, who appreciates prompt conreports; BRIAN EARL BROWN mentions Denice won a chip of green rock in the same shady sweepstakes I did--also, that Mayor Young opposes gun control because Detroit is surrounded by hostile suburbs and the KKK; FERK sends an off-color postcard; BRAD FOSTER, just drawing pictures for fun and not worrying about such things as fan Hugos or when I'll use up the last batch of cartoons he sent me; JESSICA AMANDA SALMONSON, whose perceptive comments are much appreciated; HARRY WARNER, JR. ("It's sort of discouraging for the older members of your mailing list to calculate how many more issues of Light in the Bushel they are apt to enjoy if they arrive at intervals of more than a year apart"); and WALT WILLIS. Gotta run; see you in '87.
"One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune, or disillusion, must be to make contact again."

--Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942

Richard Brandt
4740 N. Mesa #111
El Paso, TX 79912
U.S.A.



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