The Hugos, 2015, Chapter Two: The Slate Mailer Saga

I live in California, where individuals and interest groups can create laws through a “direct democracy” process. They can get an initiative on the ballot and it’s voted on by the people. This means that, come election time, I am flooded with “slate mailers,” as they’re called, in both e-mail and paper mail.

A slate-mailer is what it sounds like. An interest group (social justice, environmental, business-based) or a union, or the DNC/RNC will mail you out a list of candidates and propositions on the ballot, and recommend how you should vote. Sometimes they’ll include a one-line advertising slogan about why; often it’s just the list. Something like this:

(Cheerfully smiling business-person in background)

The Chamber of Commerce recommends the following:

  • Hugh Goboy for President
  • Agatha Shopkeeper for Senate
  • Yes on Prop 6,
  • No on Prop 12
  • No on Prop 18.

There’s nothing wrong with a slate of recommendations from an organization you are affiliated with. If you feel you’re too busy or just not interested in researching candidates and issues, and you trust the organization, a slate makes things easy, even though you are putting your vote into the control of someone else.

Basically, what happened at the Hugos this year was slate-mailing on steroids. There was another component to the process; bloc-voting, with a rumor (supported by some evidence) that the splinter group, the Rabid Puppies, recruited new voters to carry the slate.

I’m all for recruiting new voters, frankly. Recruiting more voters who will actually vote would probably have resolved the whole Rabid Puppy situation right off the bat.

There are a couple of problems with that solution though. One is that people aren’t that interested in nominating, or feel they haven’t read enough. The other is the cost.

It costs money to nominate a work for a Hugo, and to vote for the winner.

WorldCon – the World Science Fiction Convention – implies a global community of SFF fans in its name. Admittedly, the USA is known for putting “World” into the title of things that aren’t global (Hello, baseball!) but WorldCon allegedly tries to be inclusive… somewhat.

The “supporting membership” for WorldCon, the cheapest membership that allows you to vote, is $40 US.

Let’s stay with the US for a minute. For one stratum of SF fans, $40 is nothing. It doesn’t even require a second of reflection before clicking the PayPal button.

For many fans in the US, $40 is an expenditure that requires some thought. Spending $40 out of the household budget just to have a say about Best Book of the Year may be frivolous. It may reduce funds available for sports, a field trip or some other enrichment for your children. It’s not a slam-dunk.

And for many other fans, still in the US, it is out of reach. It isn’t a question of diverting the monthly Family Movie Day budget for one month. It is not even a discussion. Many of these people read, review and write SF; they blog, and some of them teach at the college level. They are shut out of the “democratic” Hugo selection process by economics.

Now let’s consider fans in Indonesia, Namibia, Lithuania. Can most of them afford $40 US?

If everyone who wanted to vote had voted, the Rabid Puppy slate might not have found such traction, even if they had a  newly-recruited voting bloc. If the cost of a supporting membership were $6, I wonder what would have happened. Just generally, beyond this year and next,I wonder what would happen. Would we start seeing SF best-sellers from Kenya and Estonia on the short list? Would we start getting more works in translation? In other words, would more nominators and voters introduce us to more good books (which, after all, is ultimately the purpose)?

WorldCon has expenses, and one of those is providing a reading packet to eligible voting members. There’s a cost associated with that, so I understand that there needs to be some money recouped. But $40 is excessive and snobbish.

This is a long-run and short-run problem, because WorldCon rule changes would not take effect until 2017. In the short run, maybe it’s up to the community to help. If you’re in the lucky don’t-have-to-think-about-it layer, can you afford to shell out $40 for a membership for someone you know? Maybe it’s a friend or a student, a family member; or maybe it’s someone whose blog you’ve read or comments you’ve appreciated. Maybe you will never know who they nominate of how they vote. Maybe, though, you can give them a voice.

Many people still don’t want to nominate – they think they don’t read enough, or they just don’t care. That’s another problem, as are the root causes of this year’s Hugo failure.

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3 Responses to The Hugos, 2015, Chapter Two: The Slate Mailer Saga

  1. While I completely agree that WorldCon is run by and for the economically privileged and buying votes only tells you what vote-buyers think, here’s a data point regarding your mention of poor countries: Median wealth in Australia is four times what it is in the US. If national wealth rather than individual wealth mattered, the Aussies would rule World Con.

  2. Marion says:

    I’m not sure I completely understand your point. “Median” refers to individual wealth, right? (And wouldn’t it be intriguing if the Aussie did rule WorldCon?)

    I think the cost of membership is important; I also think raising awareness about how the Hugos are selected helps too. I didn’t know myself until three years ago that the selection process involves a pool of fans; I always assumed some type of juried selection.

  3. Pingback: Buying in. |

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