|Built by France in the wake of the First World War,
the Maginot Line was an engineering marvel
completely unsuited to the challenges
of the Second World War.
(Image via History.com)
This is the seventh year that the E Pluribus Hugo (EPH) methodology of tabulating Hugo Award nominations has been in effect.
Since it was ratified at the business meeting in 2016, EPH has weighted nominating votes in an attempt to ensure that the shortlist is more representative of Worldcon fandom than it was in years past. By our count, the use of EPH has resulted in changes to the Hugo shortlists on 35 occasions. Over the past eight years, this system has removed some works from the shortlist in favour of other works that were nominated by a smaller (but hypothetically more representative) demographic.
Given that there have been almost 900 finalists across all Hugo (plus Lodestar and Astounding) categories since EPH went into effect, that means the new system has made about a four per cent difference to the shortlist.
In essence, EPH created noise around the edges of the data, to little benefit.
EPH was proposed in the wake of the 2015 Hugo Awards controversy, during which a co-ordinated minority of fans were able to overwhelm the nomination process. It was one of a variety of solutions proposed as a remedy to the problem of slate voting.
At the time, those involved with this blog were in support of the EPH proposal. Sure, sometimes it produced weird results like keeping Arkady Martine off the Astounding Award ballot in 2020 … but that seemed like a small price to pay to prevent another year like 2015, in which havoc raged and resulted in five categories resolving as “no award.”
|It's worth noting who gets added and who
gets removed from the shortlist due to EPH.
(Image via Hugo Awards 2017 nominations)
In the intervening years, EPH has not been faced with a significant challenge. From 2017 to 2022, nomination patterns among Worldcon members was as expected, with no “slate” that needed to be accounted for. If the data from this year is correct, however, the highly-correlated list of finalists that all received similarly inflated numbers of votes does more than just resemble a ‘slate.’ (This is not to imply malicious action on the part of those casting nominating ballots, but to say that clustered votes that are correlated due to a highly influential recommended reading list will be treated by the EPH system in a way that is similar to a slate of nominators.) And in the face of this trial by fire, EPH has failed.
EPH has also not lived up to the promise that it would ensure that different factions of fandom would be represented in the final ballot. Looking over the list of those who have been excluded from the Hugo Ballot because of EPH, you’ll find some excellent folks who have yet to receive their first nominations. If not for EPH in 2022, Black Nerd Problems would have become the first fanzine made by Black SFF fans to receive a Hugo nomination. If not for EPH in 2020, Priyanka Krishnan would have been the second-youngest editor ever shortlisted for a Hugo Award. Meanwhile, EPH has secured additional nominations for some of the folks who have been recognized the most often in the past. It was a solution that may have reinforced systems of power instead of mitigating their impact.
Another issue with EPH is that it can be gamed. Sufficient people nominating only one item in a category are likely to boost that one finalist through a process that’s been dubbed “bullet voting.” The effects of this can be extreme. In 2023, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s short story Destiny Delayed was omitted from the Hugo Award ballot … despite receiving almost twice as many votes as the shortlisted work Resurrection by Ren Qing.
Equally if not more damning, EPH has created a barrier to the public understanding of how the Hugo Award nominees are selected. The integrity of the nominations process, and thus the awards themselves, is being questioned for a variety of reasons, and an arcane system of tabulation only adds to the problem. People are unlikely to trust a system that they don’t understand, and an obfuscatory system they are expected to participate in is anathema to public trust and participation.
EPH doesn’t offer better results, it simply picks different finalists in a way that seems to increase the democratic deficit in our community instead of removing it.
Fundamentally, we’ve seen that “E Pluribus Hugo” has not functioned as intended, produces a shortlist that less accurately reflects the will of the Worldcon community, and adds confusion to the process. It’s time to abandon it altogether. It’s time to craft tools appropriate for tomorrow’s awards.