The problem with the puppy slates is not that they've got stuff on the ballot. They're members of the Worldcon, and they're entitled to have the stuff they nominated on the ballot, regardless of their decision processes in making their choices. The problem is that they have kept off the ballot some other stuff that most voters would probably prefer to vote for. So what we should be doing is preventing a slate from forcing stuff off the ballot, not from getting stuff on the ballot. The voters can then use their alternative vote preferences to take care of the slate, as happened last year when the slate failed to completely dominate any categories.
It seems to me, therefore, that the solution is to have some rule for varying the size of the final list of nominees in each category based on the nominating patterns. Nothing on a slate would be banned or disqualified, but the slate wouldn't be allowed to dominate any category. We already do this a bit — we increase the number of nominees if there's a tie for fifth place, and we reduce the number if not enough nominees pass the 5% threshold.
I would propose that for each category we take the total number of nominations received in that category, subtract the number of nominations received by the most popular nominee in the category (thus removing the effect of a slate, if there is one, on the numbers), and then the shortlist consists of everything that got at least 10% of the remaining number, but with a minimum of five per category and scrapping the existing 5% rule (which has already been causing problems). That would have set thresholds this year of (with the actual minimum nominations to be on the ballot under the current system):
- Novel: 144 (was 256)
- Novella: 74 (was 145)
- Novelette: 76 (was 165)
- Short Story: 94 (was 151)
- Graphic Story: 58 (was 60)
- BDP Long: 51 (was 204)
- BDP Short: 76 (was 71)
- Editor Short: 59 (was 162)
- Editor Long: 34 (was 166)
- Pro Artist: 56 (was 136)
- Semiprozine: 43 (was 94)
- Fanzine: 36 (was 68)
- Fancast: 48 (was 69)
- Fan Writer: 77 (was 129)
- Fan Artist: 24 (was 23)
- Campbell: 62 (was 106)
You'll observe that it would have made little difference to the relatively puppy-free categories of Fan Artist and Graphic Story while allowing a lot more on the ballot in the six categories that are 100% puppy.
I think there's a failure node if we have a category (most likely BDP Long or BDP Short) where there's a genuine overwhelming favourite one year, and we end up with a very long tail of nominees. BDP Long might suffer from that this year. We might want to set a maximum number of nominees as well as a minimum, but I'd suggest it should be pretty high, maybe 15. And/or we could say that you can't subtract more than 25% when subtracting the number of nominations for the most popular work, on the basis that more than 25% is popular support rather than a slate.
It's a bit complicated, but the nominators and voters don't have to understand the rule, as it doesn't change what they should do, which is to nominate stuff that they want to be on the final ballot.
There are two problems with potentially having more nominees per category. First, it might make voting more difficult, if you have to rank up to 15 items per category instead of 5. Second, it makes for a bigger administrative and financial burden on the administrating Worldcon (and on the next one, which will be running the Hugo Losers' party).
Many thanks to coalescent for tweeting a screenshot of the nomination numbers that I used to produce the figures above.
Please feel free to share the link to this post. Anonymous comments are screened, but will be unscreened unless they're highly non-productive.