Early Hugo Voting

The rules for Hugo voting were formalized in the early 60s. Prior to that, they were set by each Worldcon committee in turn, while staying within the general bounds of tradition. During the period the categories (see List of Hugo categories) were not standardized at all and changed radically from year.

1953 Philcon II, the 1953 Worldcon which first awarded the Hugos, apparently did so by vote of the committee without any ballot of the members.

1954 SFCon, for some reason that does not appear to be on the record, did not award the Hugos.

1955 The Clevention awarded the Hugos for the second time, and did so by means of a single ballot in a PR. This ballot allowed voters to vote for one candidate in each category and the committee totaled the results to determine the winner. There was no nominating ballot. Voting was not limited to convention members, and this practice of open voting continued through Detention in 1959, at least and possibly through Pittcon.

1956 Nycon II took a big step towards the modern process and for the first time there was a shortlist of nominations followed by a vote of the membership to select the winners. The shortlist was compiled by taking nominations from anyone who cared to contribute which were then "screened by a special committee in consultation with experts in the field to determine their qualifications." (Oddly, the Best Prozine category was not nominated but was done strictly as a write-in on the final ballot.) Each member received a final ballot. Voting was not by preferential ballot but by an ordinary vote-for-one procedure. In a few cases, the results were close enough that a second vote was taken at the convention. The qualification year was June 1955 to June 1956.

1960 The WSFS Business Meeting at Pittcon determined that the final ballot would be distributed only to members of the Worldcon, though nominating ballots were still distributed widely throughout fandom and anyone could nominate. (In 1962 Chicon III actually sent out nominating ballot to be printed in various prozines.)

1963 As of Discon, the right to nominate was limited to members of the administering Worldcon and the previous Worldcon, and it has remained more-or-less like this ever since.

1966 Tricon increased the number of nominations each voter could make to three per Hugo category.

1968 By 1968, at Baycon, the modern preferential ballot was in use.

The voting rules combined with the relatively small attendance (300-900) at these late 50s and early 60s Worldcons resulted in an amazingly small number of votes selecting a winner. No numbers were published by most conventions, but Pacificon II in 1965 published detailed nominating statistics: There were 164 ballots received (with just over 500 attending members, this is an excellent voting rate). The novel that just missed getting on the final ballot got thirteen nomination votes, so the number needed to get on was probably in the high teens to twenty. In the final voting for novel the winner, Way Station, got 63 votes and the second place finishers (a tie) got 54.

It seems likely that the votes needed in the early days were even fewer since with no nominating ballot, the single votes from each voter would be much more widely scattered. In fanzines, people who had been part of the process indicated that winners often only got a dozen votes, making the distinction between first and second place a matter of luck.

Initially, the Hugos were awarded for work "in the previous year" which was not well defined. Previous calendar year? Year from Worldcon to Worldcon? Detention the 1959 Worldcon standardized the year to be the previous calendar year and it has remained so ever since.