How the Hugo Awards Could Resurrect American Elections

I didn’t vote for Evan McMullin, but I wholeheartedly agree with this recent op-ed in the Deseret News calling for “ranked-choice,” or preferential, voting because of his candidacy. Science Fiction fan that I am, I’ve participated in the balloting for the Hugo Award several times, and I’ve seen the strengths of this process in action. I like what’s advocated in his article, but I would like to add one one addendum to it, from the Hugo process, that I think would make a crucial difference.


You see, in the Hugos, there are five works competing in each category (for instance, Best Novel). But there are six options for voters to choose. The sixth one is always the same: No Award.

The No Award category is the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” of the Hugo Awards. It exists so that Hugo voters can reject all the nominated works as being unworthy of receiving a Hugo.

This happened two years ago, during the Sad Puppies controversy. When a slate of works filled most of the categories, the Hugo voters resoundingly rejected the slate works, mostly by voting “No Award.” Now, there’s a lot of conservative VS liberal politics going on with Sad Puppies that I don’t want to get into here. A simple Google search will produce inflammatory commentary from both sides of the issue, if you’re interested. The point I’m making here is that the No Award system worked. Where the Hugo voters felt their award had been co-opted by unacceptable fringe elements, they had a trapdoor to make sure those elements didn’t win. And they didn’t.

Sad Puppies 3 Logo

We need something similar in our American electoral process. As some opponents of mandatory voting aver, not voting can be free speech as much as voting is. And adding an “I abstain” option to each list of candidates would be easy enough; just like with “No Award” in the Hugos, no votes listed after “I abstain” would be counted.

But I think we need something better than simple abstention. Or at the very least, in addition to. I think the “No Award” equivalent in American elections should be this:

I Call for a New Election

What this would do in practice is simple. Like “No Award” or “I abstain,” once you put a number next to this option, no lower numbers would be counted. This is the end of your voting. It means that every other candidate on the ballot (besides the ones you ranked higher than “I call for a new election”) is, in your view, unfit and unworthy of holding the office they’re running for.

What Happens if “New Election” Wins?

If, through the preferential voting runoff process, “New election” gains a majority before any actual candidate, we do just that: hold a new election. But in order to make sure that it really is a new election, all the people who were previously on that ballot are disqualified. Political parties need to put forth a new nominee, not the same one who just lost.

Now, in our current political climate, there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of time for campaigning in that new election. That’s something parties would have to weigh in making both their original nomination and their nomination for the new election. Ideally, the new election would be completed and a winner declared before the incumbent’s term is up. We’ll have to provide, by law, for situations where that is not the case, including situations where “New election” might win multiple elections in a row. But it will be in all parties’ best interests to field acceptable candidates so that such situations rarely, if ever, happen.

Think of what this would have meant in the 2016 presidential election. Both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, were historically unpopular. Most voters felt like they were picking “the lesser of two evils” rather than voting for someone they supported. The aforementioned Mr. McMullin ran for president for exactly that reason. Think of how empowering it would have been to have had an option that directly expressed how voters felt! Voters who didn’t like voting for the lesser of two evils could have rejected both evils. And if “New election” had won, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have been on the ballot the next time around. We might have had Bernie VS. Rubio. Who knows?

And this works not just for presidential races, but for governor, senator, school board, you name it. It’ll even work in situations where just a single person is running—letting voters “throw the bum out” even if they don’t know who they want to replace him with yet. Lack of good choices would be much less of a problem for us.

This option would also give Americans a direct way to rebuke American political parties as a group. Americans will finally be able to say, “All y’all’s candidates suck! Pick new ones!” And the parties would learn from that quickly, believe me. Americans could force their political parties—on both sides—to get it right and field candidates that the majority of Americans find tolerable. And that, in turn, would cut down on political polarization and fringe candidates.

Plus, who doesn’t want the option of sticking it to the man? (Politically, at least.)

Rejected grunge red stamp

So call your state and federal legislators. Bug your city council. This idea works on all levels, from local to national. Let them know you want the choice to reject everyone and have that opinion matterThis nation is of, for, and by the people. We can do this if we want.

We just have to be loud enough.

Review: “An Immense Darkness” by Eric James Stone

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the whole experience with the Hugo Awards, it’s the importance of taking part in the nomination process. I missed it this year, and I regret it.

That’s about to change.

I’ll be paying a lot more attention to the new SF/F that I read this year and keeping track of stories I think are Hugo-worthy. In the interest of staying positive on the Internet (a counterculture concept, I know), I’ll be posting reviews about the ones I liked. First up: Eric James Stone’s “An Immense Darkness,” published in the March 2015 issue of Analog.

For those of you who don’t know Eric, he’s a really cool guy. He’s the only person I know to have a drone deliver the wedding rings at his reception. He won a Nebula award for his novelette “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” which was about a Mormon branch president presiding over a congregation of space whales living in the middle of the sun. It was awesome. His first novel comes out in January from Baen.

Eric was at Sasquan last week as well, and at his signing he was giving away copies of the issue of Analog with his new story in it. Because he’s cool like that. He hoped he might build a little support for his short story for next year’s Hugo Awards.

Eric, you’ve got my vote.

“An Immense Darkness” is the most intense five pages I’ve read in quite a while. It’s about a scientist who’s just lost his fiancé to a terrorist attack and is given the opportunity to help bring her killer to justice—with the temptation to exact revenge at the same time. The drama is believable, the character is sympathetic, the technology is both exciting and disturbing, and in the end he confronts his dilemma in a heartbreaking and moral way.

This is everything I want in science fiction. As an editor, I’ve made it my professional goal in life to promote stories in which good, relateable characters make the right decisions in hard and fantastic circumstances. This is the kind of story I would seize out of the slush pile and do everything I could to publish—no matter who the author was.

That’s one Hugo nominee chosen. Now I’ve got to finish reading that novel . . .