Ditmar voting

I think one thing I am noticing about the current Ditmar discussion is that discussion of bloc voting/lobbying is quite vague and ill-defined. There seem to be several separate notions all being rolled into one.

There are a number of reactions on display in this discussion, for example:

  1. That a con-organiser has utilised her power to somehow influence the results.
  2. That a group of people has tried to influence voters and mobilise friends to vote for specific works, regardless of their personal taste, in order to achieve a particular result.
  3. That a group of people has promoted its own works and encouraged awareness of them and votes thereby.
  4. that a group of people are popular and well-liked, and that their works have therefore been dominant regardless of quality.
  5. That a group of people are notably popular and producing good work, and that through a combination of the two have achieved a dominant result.

To my mind we are talking about five *very different* complaints, there. But accusations have to at least some extent grouped them together.

There seems, to my mind, a fair amount of evidence to support #5, and it is the most open-minded proposition. There is nothing much that can be said, critically, about that proposition. If it is the case, then there would seem little to complain about. If one is on the losing end, all one can do is work harder to produce better work and promote it better.

I think #4 would be an understandable reaction for someone who didn’t like the work which won the awards. But I have heard very few complaints along those lines. Mostly people seem comfortable with the quality of the works, just not the dominance. And if #4 *was* the case, there seems little that needs to be remedied. Popularity is not always going to equate with quality, but a voted award is always going to be some mixture of the two.  There can certainly be no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of those producing the work, who presumably *do* believe it to be of good quality.

#3 is perhaps a purist complaint; based on the presumption that work should stand for itself and that there should be a “level-playing-field” of sorts. Purveyors of this complaint would argue that producers of the work should stand back from the work, and let voters make up their own minds without any kind of promotion. I think very few members of the community genuinely believe this. The type of blog posts we see every year, from authors and publishers, reminding readers of works they can vote for, fall into this category. While some may see this kind of promotion as distracting from the essence of the vote, most people accept it and trust in voters to make up their own minds.

Votes may be cast due to publicity and due to popularity. I certainly identify with the idealist camp in wishing this were not the case, but I am not naive to believe it can ever be stopped or policed. Authors and publishers will always have a right, if not a responsibility, to promote their work. And none of us knows the mind of anyone else well enough to be able to say with any certainty that a particular voter has made a decision on these grounds, rather than actual quality. Popularity and publicity seem to me, then, two necessary “evils” that we need to accept as part of any popular vote.

It is impossible to determine the level of their influence.

And more importantly, in terms of the current discussion, I think that while it is perfectly acceptable (if not always a good PR move) to complain that “so-and-so just won because they are popular or better publicised”, it is pretty clear that there can be no grounds on which to level accusations that the winner has done anything wrong to achieve the result.

I can understand somebody being annoyed or grumpy if they believe they lost because somebody else was more popular or better publicised. Such complaints are usually presumptuous (because they rely on the complainant’s conviction that they can accurately assess the quality of their own work, which is usually at best arrogant and at worst a delusional belief). But they don’t offend me, and people are free to complain about that if they want.

But I do *not* believe there are grounds to criticise either the winners or the awards on these grounds, because nobody has acted outside illegally or even imorrally. Too bad. Move on.

#3 is often called “Bloc voting” but I don’t think it is.

#2 is what I would call Bloc voting in its true form, because it involves asking people to vote for works which they do not consider to be the best, in return for some (specific or imagined) reward. It also involves concentrating votes, saying “Let’s all vote for *this* TPP story so we can be sure of not splitting our vote”.

I have seen no evidence of this happening, although I am told a few people got emails (not from TPP notably) with requests of this sort.  I don’t know if this kind of thing is illegal in terms of the Ditmars. I find it immoral, but mileage may vary. It certainly represents a step up from #3, #4 and #5, and I can see why people would be angry or disillusioned if it was widespread.

I haven’t seen any evidence that it *is* widespread, or influenced the vote.

#1 is clearly both illegal and immoral in regard to the Ditmars. I don’t believe anybody in the community would have any hesitation in opposing it. But I have not seen a single shred of evidence to indicate that it has occurred, nor even *how* it could possibly have occurred. The organisation of the Ditmars seems specifically designed to barrier against this danger.

I find it hard to take the suggestions of #1 in the recent discussions even vaguely seriously. They are offensive, certainly, in that they were trotted out lazily and without a single shred of evidence.

I suspect that even those making the accusations of #1 did not seriously consider them an option, but threw them in as a last minute, haphazard addendum. It was thoughtless and slanderous but not worth any serious engagement unless somebody advances a more developed argument which even pretends to touch on evidence of corruption.

I think some of the recent critics may believe #2 to be true, but again they have not supplied any evidence (and I don’t believe they would be slow to do so if they had any). And in that respect, believing #2 over #3 would seem to be more a leap of faith based on paranoia than any serious argument. I think that if #2 is ever provable, there are grounds for addressing either the award process or the individuals involved, *if* the community as a whole thinks such an action should not be acceptable (and the jury’s out on that). But we’re talking two or three steps away from the accusations levelled in this instance, in that there is absolutely no evidence (indeed at least one of the critics has specifically *denied* that TPP made any such overtures). So #2 should be taken as pretty much irrelevant (you can all stop laughing whenever I say #2 now).

Where does all this leave us? Well, I suspect, and I could be wrong, that the people who are pissed off really know, deep down, that what has happened falls into one of options #3-#5. I think that people are upset because they feel that they are facing a juggernaut of popular and talented people and that they are outside it.

But there are no grounds to criticise anybody, or to criticise the Ditmars, on those bases. It’s just tough luck. You lost. It might suck, it might not be what you think should have happened. But there is nothing immoral about it, there is nothing against the rules about it. It just is. And maybe some people are looking for ways to elevate their complaints to #2 or #1 to give them greater strength, to give them some kind of legitimacy.

Because otherwise it is just somebody saying “Hey I lost to someone either more talented or more popular than me and that sucks”. And it’s not so easy to admit the ugly truth.

I could be wrong.

I don’t actually have anything against any of the proponents of these arguments. They said what they said, in the heat of the moment. So be it. My advice is: pick up your ball, move on. Work hard. Producer better and better work. Promote your work better, smarter. Be as decent a person as you can be. Work to produce brilliant work and a community of people who recognise it, appreciate it and believe in you.

2. Win Ditmars.


4. Profit.

But leave all this talk of corruption or processes needing reform in the trash where they belong.

(I’ve enjoyed the debate though).

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5 Responses to Ditmar voting

  1. Nicely delineated.

    #3 is indeed a tricky one. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with anything more than a single post on my blog simply stating which work of mine is eligible for a particular award, when nominations are open. Just to remind people of work of mine that they might have read during the year, or to point them towards it if they are interested. (This year I actually specified a short story as being my personal favourite. I still don’t know why I did that really. Some vague notion of pointing people towards what I thought was my best work, so if they only chose to read one piece, it might be that. Then again, all my stories from last year have received some kind of honour, so who the hell am I to judge their worth?)

    If I’m on ballot that comes out, I’ll post that as well. Actually, I usually try to post relevant awards ballots anyway, whether I’m on them or not. I’m yet to offer a work for free, either at the nomination or voting stage, as this feels slightly icky to me. Just to me, though. I should stress that I don’t care about others doing it, and have downloaded freebies of nominated works and have thought no worse of the nominee for having offered them. But on a personal level, I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. I suppose I really should on the basis of allowing voters to be informed. But I don’t know. More thinking on this, obviously.

    Anyway, thoughtful post, Ben. It’s good to see the issue being covered from all different angles.

    • Ben says:

      I know what you mean. I feel vaguely dirty any time I self-promote, even a little. It is an area where everyone draws their own line, I guess, and while I find some peoples’ self-promotion gauche and clumsy, I can’t think of any examples even approaching suggestions of “corruption” or “vote-stacking”.

      Then again, maybe I just don’t get invited to those kinds of parties 😀

  2. Robin Pen says:

    Couldn’t put it any better.

    Robin Pen

  3. Chris Barnes says:

    Well said. I concur with your analysis.

  4. Jeremy Byrne says:

    Here’s a sixth possibility: people might vote for work by convention organisers because the names of those organisers are prominent at the time they are voting, and/or because they feel that so voting in some way helps to repay the convention organisers for their hard work. This possibility might be felt to be more important in determining award results when at-con voting occurs, as it did at Swancon 36.

    As a member of the Ditmar subcommittee, that possibility struck me as the only potentially serious criticism of the vote, and I took it upon myself to re-run the results of the vote excluding the at-con votes. As I stated in my report to the Natcon Business Meeting, doing so had some minor effects on the result (as could be expected when a chunk of such a small voter base was excluded) but importantly it did not affect the results in the “controversial” “TPP-related” categories of the awards. They were won already, before any at-con voting took place.

    Of course, the suspicions behind this sixth possibility are not wholly allayed by the exclusion of at-con voting, which is why I suggested in my report that the ineligibility of members of the host convention committee “might be worth considering in future, in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.” Others who have addressed this issue during the current “debate” have suggested that such an exclusion would overly restrict the pool of potential work. I’m not sure that’s the case, as the overlap between convention organisers and persons producing Ditmar-eligible work is typically not great. Nevertheless, it is true that part of the motivation for the establishment of the concom-independent awards subcommittee was to allow concom members to be eligible for the Ditmars, and so it would seem that the community has already indicated that it doesn’t consider possibility #6 particularly problematic.

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