E Pluribus Hugo FAQ

FAQs:

  1. Can you explain the system in plain language?

First, and most importantly, E Pluribus Hugo makes absolutely no changes in how members nominate (no ranking or complex strategies are required). The new system changes only the way nominations are tallied in order to create a more robust measure of which nominees have the broadest and deepest support among WSFS members. The final Hugo voting system, which actually chooses the winner, is unchanged.

The new system narrows down Worldcon members’ nominations by knocking out the least supported works in repeated elimination rounds until only five (under current rules) finalists remain. Here are the basic steps, as applied to one category:

(a) All the nominations for each nominee (that is, the number of ballots on which each nominee appears) are added up, just like in the current system. This number, called “number of nominations” in the proposal, is one of the criteria used to determine the final nominees with the broadest support.

(b) Next, one point is divided equally among all the nominees in a category on each member’s ballot. If there are two nominees on a ballot in a category, each gets 1/2 point; if there are three nominees, each gets 1/3 point, and so on.

(c) All the points for each nominee from all nomination ballots are then added together. This number, called “point total” in the proposal, is the second of the two criteria used to determine the final nominees with the broadest support.

(d) The nominees with the lowest point totals are compared to each other. The nominee with the fewest number of nominations is eliminated, because it is the nominee with the least support.

(e) After a nominee is eliminated, it is removed from the ballots that it appeared on, each of which gets its point redistributed among its remaining nominees. For example, if a ballot had four nominees with 1/4 point each, it now has three nominees with 1/3 point each, and so on.

Over successive rounds, a surviving nominee’s point total can’t decrease, but it can increase as the nominees it shares a ballot with are eliminated. Eventually, the finalists will have all the points from all remaining ballots. This process is repeated until the designated number of finalists (five in the current version of the constitution) remains.

  1.  I’m a visual person. Is there a graphical way to see how the system works?

Yes. We have created a PowerPoint (and also in PDF form that can be viewed in a browser, but you lose the animations) that explains the system and shows how it limits the effect of slates. In this graphical form, you can watch the eventual finalists’ bar graphs of their point totals get longer and longer as other nominees are eliminated. You can also see how slate nominees tend to compete with and eliminate each other, since they tend to have virtually the same number of both points and nominations.

  1. E Pluribus Hugo?

The designers felt this name accurately reflects what the Hugo nomination system should be trying to achieve. Fandom is the Many. Members of fandom have a wide range of interests, tastes, and desires in what they appreciate in science fiction and fantasy. This is a defining characteristic of fandom, and this system embraces it. Out of all of these many tastes in nominees, this system allows a single set of nominations to slowly emerge as the most popular candidates for the Hugo Awards: “Out of the Many, a Hugo.”

  1. But surely that’s not what the system is formally called?

Okay, sure. Formally, in the context of election theory, this system would be called “single divisible vote with least popular elimination” or SDV-LPE for short. E Pluribus Hugo is both cooler and geekier, as everything is better with a little Latin.

  1. Why are there Selection and Elimination Phases? Couldn’t you simplify the system by doing it all in one step per elimination?

The Selection Phase looks for nominees with the lowest point total, and the Elimination Phase eliminates the one with the fewest number of nominations. Looking at the two different measures of popularity adds robustness to the system. There are strategies to manipulate each of these two measurements, but it is very difficult to manipulate both in the same direction. A strategy that focuses on number of nominations for the Elimination Phase (such as bloc voting) will be stymied by the Selection Phase; a strategy that focuses on points for the Selection Phase (such as nominating only one nominee) will turn out to be counterproductive in the Elimination Phase. While no voting system can be completely strategy-proof, this two-step approach makes this system as close to that as possible.

  1. Why re-run the system if someone declines a nomination? Why not just take the nominee that was eliminated in the next to last round?

We considered that as an option, including analyzing and simulating the effects on the vote either way. We discovered only one major difference in the results: If the declined nomination is from a slate, then when taking the “6th place” nominee, the declined nomination will tend to be replaced by a non-slate nominee. With our system of re-running the vote, if a slate nominee makes the final ballot and its nomination is declined, that nomination will tend to be replaced by another nominee from the slate. Either way works, but as noted above, our goal is to avoid shutting out any section of fandom from the final ballot. The results of re-running the calculation seem more in line with that philosophy.

  1. Shouldn’t I just nominate one work if I want to give it the best chance to win?

The system was crafted specifically to make most strategies irrelevant. For example, if you wanted to support a single nominee you feel strongly about, and there isn’t anything else you feel is Hugo-worthy, you can do that. On the other hand, if you nominate four other things that you feel might be Hugo-worthy, you aren’t hurting your favorite. This is because if your other nominees get eliminated, then your full support will go to the remaining nominee, just as if you had never nominated the others. If enough people agree with your other four, some of them might make it, too. If enough people don’t agree with your favorite, there’s nothing you can do to get it on the final ballot, because you will never have more than one point and one nomination for it.

The bottom line is that a low point total isn’t what causes a nominee to be eliminated. Not having enough nominations is what eliminates a nominee – exactly as it is under the current system. There is no way that you (alone) can increase the number of nominations your favorite nominee gets – not even by only listing that one nominee. If you only list one nominee (“bullet voting”), you can give it at most an extra 4/5 of a point (but more reasonably only around 1/3 of a point, because you weren’t likely to pick all five finalists in any event). Listing only one nominee would have to give your favorite enough points to put it all the way into fourth place, so that its nominations are never compared for elimination. Because finalists may have well over 100 points, the odds of making much of a difference with this strategy are very, very small – and the price you pay is that you don’t get to nominate any of your other favorites.

In general, the best strategy is simple: nominate as many nominees as you feel are worthy.

  1. Isn’t it true that any voting system can be gamed (or strategized, etc.)?

Yes, there is a theorem which proves that all voting systems must have inherent flaws – that is, it’s impossible to create a voting system in which strategy never makes a difference. The objective therefore is to choose a system whose flaws are not an issue to the election at hand. In this system, “strategic voting” is technically possible, but extremely risky: There’s no good way to know ahead of time whether a given strategy will help, or backfire. Here’s a specific example:

In theory: Suppose that you and your friends wanted to see both the novels Rocket and Castle on the final ballot, and you really don’t want to see Tentacles. Suppose that you knew that without your nominations, Rocket would be a shoo-in, Tentacles would just barely make it to fifth place, and Castle would just barely miss. In that case, you all could submit nomination ballots that only have Castle in the Best Novel category, leaving off Rocket. By doing that, and giving your undivided points to Castle, you increase its points and maybe help it to avoid having its number of nominations compared in the Elimination Phase. (You have no way to increase the number of nominations that Castle receives.) If you push it up to 5th place, it can still be eliminated by Tentacles, if Castle has fewer nominations. If you could somehow push it all the way up to 4th place, it would safely make the final ballot.

In practice: You won’t actually know the preferences of all the other Hugo voters so precisely before the election. Maybe Rocket isn’t so popular after all, and it needs your nominations to get over the top. Maybe too many people will assume Rocket is safe, and it loses because they left it off their ballots. Maybe Tentacles has a broad enough base of support that your nominations for Castle aren’t enough to eliminate it. Maybe Castle is so unpopular outside your own circle of friends that it never had a chance. Maybe you’re the only Castle fan who also likes Rocket, so your strategy won’t change Castle’s score by enough to put it in 4th place. Half a point isn’t likely to make enough of a difference to give it that much of a boost (and the cost is that you are giving up nominating any of your other favorites). There are many ways for your strategy to fail, or even backfire, and only one, highly-specific way for it to work.

Nominating what you think is Hugo-worthy really is your best strategy.

  1. What are E Pluribus Hugo’s flaws?

In rare cases, it is possible that eliminating both members of a tie could change the final ballot slightly from what it would be if the tie were broken. The change is usually in the least popular of the finalists, and requires the two nominees in question to be very close in popularity. Hundreds of simulations were run using real and created data sets to help decide which tie-breaking methods would maintain our goal of supporting the wide range of opinions within fandom. It turned out that all the simulations showed that there was almost no difference in outcomes, no matter how we broke ties. We have chosen, therefore, to break ties in a manner consistent with section 6.4 of the Worldcon constitution. There are a number of additional tie breakers that could be used if it were deemed necessary in the future; however, simulations that have been run by the designers of this system show that it really shouldn’t be required.

  1. What are E Pluribus Hugo’s benefits?

Simply put, it reduces the power of bloc voting without eliminating the chance that nominees that do appear on slates will make it to the final ballot. Conversely, it makes it very difficult for slates to prevent non-slate nominees from appearing on the ballot.

  1. How does this system eliminate slate or bloc voting?

It doesn’t, exactly, nor should a nominee be automatically eliminated just because it appears on a slate. On the other hand, any slate which nominates a full set of five nominees will find that each of its nominations only count 1/5 as much. With “non-slate” nominating, some of your nominees will be slowly eliminated, so your remaining nominees get more and more of your support. Since slate nominees tend to live or die together, they tend to eliminate each other until, in general, only one slate nominee remains. With a large enough support behind the slate (five times as much), the slate may still sweep a category; however, if that many voters support the slate, they arguably deserve to win, and no fair and unbiased system of nomination will prevent that. The answer in that case is, simply, to increase the general pool of voters. Regardless, with E Pluribus Hugo, slates will never receive a disproportionate share of the final ballot, as occurred in the 2015 Hugos.

  1. Couldn’t supporters of slates just recommend a single nominee for a candidate, and it will automatically appear on the final ballot?

Yes, if a slate has enough supporters, that is certainly a viable possibility – it’s also completely fair. It does not force all other nominees off of the final ballot, and the final Hugo winner is determined by the same voting process we have always had. Just appearing on the final ballot isn’t a guarantee of winning a Hugo. However, if any large section of fandom strongly believes that a nominee deserves a Hugo nomination, then it should, in fact, appear on the final ballot.

  1. What if there are multiple slates (slate wars, “parties”, etc.)?

As with a single slate, the nominees on each slate will tend to eliminate each other until only the most popular one remains. The end result is that even multiple slates are unable to sweep the nominations.

  1. What happens if a broadly popular nominee is nominated by a group of unrelated people?

If it is broadly popular, the system will still select that nominee for the final ballot.

  1. What happens if a broadly popular nominee also appears on a slate?

If the nominee garners support from individuals, then the system will select that nominee for the final ballot, even if it is on a slate. In general, slates neither help nor hurt any given nominee.

  1. What happens when there are a lot of nominees with no obvious favorites and nomination slates are introduced?

Simulations of this scenario showed that slate nominees did receive a larger proportion of nomination slots than they did otherwise. This is a fair and valid result: If there were no overall favorite, then members really had no collective preference. Even in this scenario, simulations showed that non-slate nominees were not completely shut out of the final ballot.

  1. How do the results of this system compare to the results under the current nomination system?

Statistical tests showed that this system duplicates historical results under the present system in about (conservatively) 4.5 out of 5 candidates. In the absence of slates, it generally gives identical results to the current nomination system.

  1. I think we should just increase the number of nomination slots on the final ballot to a larger number (for example, 6), and decrease the number of slots a member can nominate to a smaller number (for example, 4). Wouldn’t that be simpler and easier?

Unfortunately, this simply means that the slate with the largest number of supporters will receive four of the nominations and the slate with the next largest number of supporters will receive the remaining two. It doesn’t solve the problem of slates depriving non-slate nominees of the opportunity to compete in the final Award vote. In general, we want fandom to nominate as many nominees as they feel are Hugo-worthy, since under E Pluribus Hugo there is no strategic reason not to do so. For this reason, most of the designers of this system would prefer that members not be limited to nominating only four nominees. Keep in mind, however, that E Pluribus Hugo will work with this (or most any other) change as well, so one does not preclude the other.

  1. I think we should set up a committee to handle these situations as they occur. The committee would be empowered to add nomination slots or throw out slate-influenced ballots as required.

In spite of some claims on the Internet, there has never been a small group of people serving as actual gatekeepers to the Hugo Awards. Establishing such a review committee would validate those claims. The fairness of a committee’s decisions would be subject to constant questions, and the prestige of the Hugo Awards would be tarnished.

  1. I think we should use [insert other mathematical voting system].

We considered essentially every applicable type of voting system currently in the literature, guided by two experts in the field. It should be kept in mind, however, that the goals and requirements for choosing a set of representatives in a political situation are different from those for choosing a set of Hugo finalists. Some of these systems do, in fact, have positive properties that speak for them. None of them were as simple or as intuitive as E Pluribus Hugo, yet E Pluribus Hugo meets all of the stated goals for a Hugo nomination system.

  1. This system looks really complicated. Won’t E Pluribus Hugo be difficult to code and implement?

We should keep in mind that EPH is actually not any more complicated than the Instant Runoff Voting system we currently use for the Hugo finals. We use a computer program to handle the nomination system currently; changing to a different computer program isn’t a big deal. From the standpoint of the voters, nothing at all changes – they can continue to nominate just as they always have. One of our non-experts coded the full algorithm for the system in a matter of days. If the current nomination-gathering code can be modified to output a comma-delimited text file, we can use the existing EPH code as-is, so no new code would need to be developed.

  1. Isn’t this change just designed to keep certain people out of the Hugo nomination process?

No. E Pluribus Hugo is designed to fix a flaw in the current Hugo nominating process, which was highlighted by the Sad and Rabid Puppies slates in 2015. This flaw allowed a small percentage of nominators to dominate the final ballot, shutting out all others from entire categories. This is a major flaw that must be fixed if the integrity of the Hugo Awards is to be maintained. E Pluribus Hugo dilutes the effect of slate or bloc nominating, and works against any group trying to control the nominations. If some hypothetical cabal were trying to maintain its dominance, they would not propose this system, as E Pluribus Hugo works against that purpose.

Although it is true that the discussions for this system were hosted at the “Making Light” blog, owned by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the discussions were conducted openly and inclusively. Those of us who worked on the system were very clear that our goals were to create a system that resists bloc or slate nominating, treats all individual nominators equally, and allows a consensus final ballot to emerge from all the nominations submitted. E Pluribus Hugo accomplishes those goals.