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Art by Frank Wu

The Hugo Voting System

Many people find the Hugo voting system very complicated. While the process is indeed involved, the basic idea is simple and the intention is laudable. Basically the idea is to make sure that the winner has majority support. In ordinary governmental elections it is possible for the winner to be someone that 40% of the people like and 60% of the people hate, because that 60% could not agree amongst themselves on a candidate. The Hugo voting system is designed to avoid results like that.


Nominations are easy. Each person gets to nominate up to five entries in each category. You don't have to use them all, but you have the right to five. The only thing you can't do is nominate the same work/person more than once. When all the nominations are in, the Hugo Administrator totals the votes for each nominee. The five nominees with the highest totals go through to the final ballot.

The full details of the nominations are not released until after the final ballot. This is to prevent the nomination numbers influencing voters in the final ballot. Once the final ballot is over a list of the top 15 nominees, together with the number of votes they received, will be published.

Something that Worldcons often do before the final ballot is publish the number of nominees and voters. A common mistake that people make is to forget that each voter gets five votes. For example, if a category has 30 nominees and 35 ballots that does not mean that most nominees only got one vote. There could have been up to 35 * 5 = 175 votes.

Ties and insufficient votes

There is one situation in which more than five nominees can make it through to the final ballot. If there is a tie for fifth place (or perhaps a three-way tie for fourth, etc.) then all of the tied nominees will proceed to the final ballot.

It is also possible for less than five nominees to make it through. There is a minimum requirement of three nominees, but if the lower nominees received less than 5% of the total ballots cast then they cannot proceed.

Declining nomination

As a courtesy, Worldcon Hugo Administrators always approach the successful nominees before announcing the final ballot. Sometimes people do withdraw, for all sorts of reasons. If a successful nominee does withdraw, the work/person with the next highest number of votes is elevated to the final ballot.

There is a view that an author who has more than one work on the final ballot should withdraw all but one in order to have a better chance of winning. This is a myth. One of the reasons for having a complicated voting system is to prevent things like that happening.

How to vote in the final ballot

The final ballot is a bit more complicated. You get to rank each of the final five nominees in order of preference. Place a 1 against the work or person you most want to win, 2 against your second favourite and so on. Easy, isn't it.

No Award

Under each category you will also be given the choice of voting for No Award.

You should vote for No Award as your first choice if you believe that none of the nominees are worthy of the Award, or that the Award category should be abolished. If you vote for No Award in any other position it means that you believe the nominees you placed above No Award were worthy of a Hugo, but that those not placed above it were not worthy. However, as we shall see, it is possible to rank nominees below No Award and have an effect on the outcome.

The first round of balloting

OK, time now to count the votes. Firstly, any invalid ballots are separated and removed. Note that votes for No Award are not invalid; they are treated just like an ordinary nomination. No Award can win; in which case no award will be given in the category that year. All of the valid votes, including those for No Award, are separated into piles depending on the first preference vote and counted. If, at this point, one nominee has more than 50% of the total valid ballots we have a potential winner. Proceed to the "No Award Test". Otherwise, we need to eliminate someone.

Elimination and second round of balloting

As there is no outright winner it is time to consider second preferences. All of the votes for the nominee with the lowest number of first preference votes are sorted again, this time by second preference. These are then counted, and the second preference totals for each nominee are added to the first preference totals. What is happening here is we are saying to the supporters of the least popular candidate, OK, your guy has lost, so out of the remaining candidates, who would you prefer to win.

Note that No Award is being treated just like other nominees. This means that No Award can be, and indeed normally is, eliminated as a candidate. Any preferences below No Award can then be redistributed just as they would be for any other candidate.

The new totals for the remaining candidates are then checked. If one nominee has more than 50% of the total votes then we proceed to the No Award Test. Otherwise we continue counting.

And so on

The count continues as before with the least most popular nominee being eliminated and the votes for that nominee being redistributed amongst the survivors by third preference, fourth preference and so on. The process continues until one nominee has more than 50% of the total votes. By the time we reach the last two that must be true for one of them, unless there is a dead heat (which has happened, in which case both nominees get an award).

The No Award Test

The final check before a winner can be determined is known as the No Award Test. The valid ballots are divided into three piles: those in which No Award is ranked higher than the prospective winner, those in which the prospective winner is ranked higher than No Award, and those in which neither No Award nor the prospective winner have preferences listed. Note that a ballot that contains a preference for the prospective winner but does not contain a preference for No Award goes into the "prospective winner higher than no award" pile. This is because lack of preference is, by definition, lower than any preference. Having got the three piles, the votes in the "prospective winner higher than No Award pile" and the votes in the "No Award higher than prospective winner" pile are counted. If the number of votes with the prospective winner placed higher is greater then the result is confirmed. If the pile with No Award placed higher is greater then no award is given in the category that year.

It is not entirely obvious why this rule is in place. It does make it slightly easier for No Award to win, but it is very unlikely that it will do so. The rule is described here because Hugo Administrators always refer to having made the No Award Test in their reports and you might have wanted to know what it was.

Lower placings

The WSFS Constitution does not currently specify how lower placings (second, third, fourth and fifth) should be determined. However, the method traditionally used by Hugo Administrators is to remove all of the ballots that placed the winner first, and then repeat the counting process from the start. The winner of that second count will get second place. That nominee's first place votes are then removed, and the count repeated to find third place, and so on.

As you can see, this leads to a lot of ballot counting. While you can do this by hand, it is cumbersome and time-consuming to do so. Some years ago, a fellow named Jeffrey Copeland wrote a computer program to automate this process, and most recent Hugo Award administrators have used this program to count the ballots and produce the mounds of statistics so beloved by Hugo watchers.


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Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
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