Hugo Voting Process
The rules for awarding the Hugo Award are detailed in the WSFS Constitution and are summarized here. The process is in two steps, nominations and final ballot, both voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention.
3. The results are kept completely secret until the Hugo Ceremony at the Worldcon when the winners are announced and the Hugo Trophies are presented. Following the ceremony, the detailed results from both the nominating and the final ballot are made public.
During nominations, members of the Worldcon vote for works and people to go onto the Final Ballot (the short list.)
The Hugo nominating ballot is sent out at the beginning of the calendar year to all members of the current Worldcon, the previous Worldcon and the next Worldcon, and to anyone who joins after the start of the year through January 31st.
The ballot lists the Hugo categories and the rules governing the Hugo excerpted from the WSFS constitution. It allows each voter to vote for entities in each category to become official Hugo nominees in each category. The ballot exists on paper (it's usually included with a Worldcon progress report) and also normally is available on-line.
Each member may cast one and only one ballot -- it does not matter if the member is a member of the previous, the current and the next Worldcon.
During the nominating process, members of WSFS are allowed to list up to five choices for each Hugo category. The Hugo administrator collects the nomination ballots, determines the top six  vote-getters (or more, in the case of last-place ties).
When the nominations balloting period ends — typically in March or April — the Hugo administrator (assisted by the Hugo subcommittee, if there is one) counts the ballots to determine who has been nominated. (There are some subtle details in this process. See Nominating Ballot Details for more.)
In each category, the Hugo subcommittee makes a reasonable effort to contact each nominee to confirm they accept nomination, and prepares and distributes a Hugo final ballot containing the names of the finalists in each category.
For most of the history of the Hugos, the works which appeared on the ballot were known as the "Nominees", though recently the formal term was changed to "Finalists" in reaction to a number of authors promoting themselves as a "Hugo Nominee" because they had been nominated by at least one Hugo voter. WSFS has some legal ability to prevent people from falsely claiming the former, but no influence (other than the disdain of Hugo voters) on whether people can claim the latter.
A Hugo nominee is a person or work which receives enough votes on the nominating ballot to appear on the final ballot. While we speak of individual voters as nominating people and works for the Hugo when they fill out their nominating ballot, this is not a Hugo nomination. Under WSFS rules, a person or work is nominated for a Hugo only by appearing on the Hugo final ballot.
For even more gory details, see Nominating Ballot Details.
Once the nominating ballot is ready, it is released to voters who have until about four weeks before the Worldcon to study the nominees and to cast their votes using a Transferable Preferential Ballot.
The final ballot is typically released to the public in late April and lists the nominations (the short list) for each Hugo category. (This short list was arrived at by means of the nominations process.) The voting deadline is typically about four weeks before the Worldcon.
Unlike on the nominating ballot, voting on the final ballot are limited to members of the current Worldcon. Members who join the current Worldcon after the final ballot is released are sent their voting information.
Most balloting is electronic, though paper ballots are always distributed and accepted.
Voting for the Hugos is by transferable preferential ballot. In each Hugo category, the voter is invited to rank the nominees and No Award from 1 to 6 (or more if there were ties resulting in more than five nominees.) The transferable preferential ballot is constructed so that it is always to your advantage to rank all nominees you feel qualified to vote on and who you feel deserve a Hugo in the order in which you would prefer to see them win.
Once the voting period is over, the Hugo administrator counts the ballots using the transferable preferential ballot, confirms that more voters prefer the winner than prefer No Award, and creates a complete breakdown of the voting for the Hugo Voting Report.
And then keeps the result a deep, dark secret until the Hugo Ceremony.
Campbell Award Rules
There are some variations between the Campbell and the Hugos: See Campbell Award Rules for more.
The Hugo administrator is a position on a Worldcon committee with responsibility for administering the Hugo Awards. Normally, the Hugo administrator manages a Hugo subcommittee which has been delegated complete responsibility for running the Hugo voting process.
The 'Hugo Subcommittee is a usually very small group of persons appointed by the convention and headed by the Hugo administrator who have been delegated complete responsibility for administration of the Hugo voting process. This is provided for in the WSFS Constitution in section 3.12:
No member of the current Worldcon Committee nor any publications closely connected with a member of the Committee shall be eligible for an Award. However, should the Committee delegate all authority under this Article to a Subcommittee whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee, then this exclusion shall apply to members of the Subcommittee only.
It is not required that there be a Hugo administrator and Hugo Subcommittee, but that has been the invariable custom for over forty years. All members of the committee responsible for Hugo voting are ineligible to be nominated for a Hugo as is any publication closely associated with them. This would apply to all members of a Worldcon Committee (many hundreds of people, many of whom would potentially be in the running for a Hugo nomination) unless full authority over the Hugo voting process is delegated to a Hugo Subcommittee.
(Even if they are technically eligible due to the existence of a Hugo Subcommittee, it's still tacky for people outside the Hugo Subcommittee, but still closely associated with the Hugo process to accept nomination, since their position gives them an unfair advantage or can bring the Hugos into disrepute by the appearance of a conflict of interest.)
Note that the WSFS Constitution says "whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee". This does not mean that the Worldcon Committee can't change the membership of the Hugo Subcommittee or fire the Hugo administrator.
The Hugo administrator is always a member of the Hugo Subcommittee. If the Hugo Subcommittee includes more than one person, the Hugo administrator chairs the Hugo Subcommittee.
The Hugo administrator/Hugo subcommittee manages the whole process: nominations, contacting potential nominees, preparation of the final ballot, collection and counting of votes and the engraving of the Hugo trophies. The Hugo administrator/Hugo subcommittee is never responsible for planning or running the Hugo ceremony.
Hugo Voting Report
The complete numerical vote totals, including all preliminary tallies for first, second, ... places, shall be made public by the Worldcon committee within ninety (90) days after the Worldcon. During the same period the nomination voting totals shall also be published, including in each category the vote counts for at least the fifteen highest vote-getters and any other candidate receiving a number of votes equal to at least five percent (5%) of the nomination ballots cast in that category, but not including any candidate receiving fewer than five votes.
While the requirement is that it be published within 90 days, it is invariably made available immediately after the Hugo Ceremony. This report is public.
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.
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.
1959 For Detention, for the first time, there was a nomination ballot. It was circulated widely through fandom, anyone was allowed to nominate, and then the final ballot was distributed as usual in a PR. Howard DeVore reported in Lynn Hickman’s fanzine JD-Argassy 41 (January 31, 1959, p. 8):
The Detention Committee have announced a new system for awarding the “HUGO’S” for ’59. ALL of fandom will be allowed to make nominations and to vote on the nominations. Probably the first time that fandom as a whole has had a voice in naming the people who are considered for the awards. A copy of the initial ballott will appear here shortly and all readers are urged to vote whether they have joined the convention proper or not. IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO JOIN THE CONVENTION TO VOTE *** but, it takes money to pay for the trophys and your two dollars to JAMES BRODERICK, 12011 KILBOURNE ST./DETROIT 13, MICHIGAN will buy you a membership and help pay for the trophies.
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.)
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.
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