I thought I wrote this last year, but I can't find it now. The Hugo Awards are decided by Instant Runoff Voting between all the nominees and the "no award" option to not let anyone win that year at all.
They have an extra step at the end, the "No Award Test", which says that in addition to the normal instant runoff vote, at the end, after the eliminations, if the final winner is one of the nominees (not no award), then all the original ballots are compared, are there more ballots which voted for the winner at all (ie listed them on the ballot, and listed "no award" lower or not at all) than ballots which voted for "no award" higher than the winner.
There is a detailed description at: http://www.thehugoawards.org/the-voting-system
Although I found I needed to look up the WSFS constitution
and an example (pdf)
of the hugo results step by step from last year to make sure.Exmaination
However, I got to wondering, when does this extra step make a difference. If ever?
First note that, despite the controversies about nomination this year, even if people vote "no award" above many or all nominees in many categories, I think "no award" will just win the vote in the usual way, this post examining the extra "no award test" will be completely irrelevant. So I'm just interested out of principle if it ever WOULD be used.
My impression is, it would make a difference if the vote is quite polarised (ie. different people voting the same book at the top and bottom of the ballot), and with people voting "no award" more than half way up their ballot. Both of which seem quite unusual.
My favourite example is to recall the Drazi from Babylon 5. Suppose the candidates for Dictator For the Year are Chief Green Drazi, Head Purple Drazi, and Susan Ivanova who is likely to smash the faction urns and do away with the faction system for all time. "No Award" means not declaring a dictator this year and waiting for next year. No-one wants the opposite-faction leader in charge. Traditionally all Drazi voted for their own faciton leader, but now nearly half don't want EITHER faction leader in charge.
40% of the Drazi are sick of the fighting and prefer the human to anything else. Ivanova, then no award, then the two colours.
30% vote along faction lines and are randomly chosen as Green supporters, voting Green, then "no award", then the interloper human, then the hated purple faction.
30% vote exactly the same but are randomly chosen as Purple, so vote Purple, then "no award", then Ivanova, then Green.
What are the results under IRV? What result SHOULD an election system give that voting? When the preferences are a bit circular is a time election systems often find it hard to give meaningful results, as often no result is really what the electorate wants.
According to IRV, "No Award" is eliminated immediately as nobody actually wanted that more than anything else. Then one of the two faction leaders is eliminated, and because all their faction supporters voted Ivanova over the other faction leader, Inanova wins. Which is good, but isn't really what the electorate wanted, as 60% of them voted that no dictator at all was better than her.
What the no award test says is that in this case, Ivanova won the run-off, but because she's behind "No Award" on the original ballots, there's no dictator this year.Conclusions
So, is that useful? It makes "No Award" slightly more likely to win. I think in something like the Hugo Awards, where it's fairly plausible to not award one one year, it works. It makes "no award" slightly more likely to win. And it ensures that if the electorate hates a candidate, they can't somehow slip through a split vote and win.
So I think it's a mild positive which is unlikely to come up, but will probably do the something worthwhile if it does. And probably isn't worth the extra complication of it existing, but isn't worth trying to remove. I hear it may be a watered down version of an earlier proposal that would have given no award more teeth?
I'm not sure if it should be used in other contexts such as national political elections. I would like to see more "none of the above" votes, since many people's preference DOES seem to be "I hate all of them". But there's usually protest parties you can (and should) vote for in that circumstance. The "no award test" would only make a difference if "none of the above" didn't win but everyone voted for it highly. And I'm not sure if that's ever likely to happen, or if it did, if re-running the election is likely to help...Asides on No Award in general
I admit, when I went to worldcon, it didn't really occur to me to vote any of the generally enjoyable novels below "No Award", I just voted for the nominees in the order I liked them.
But now I think, I'd vote for books that I think actively deserve a hugo, but when there are books that are perfectly enjoyable, but don't really feel stand-out to me, I WOULD put them below no award. (With the exception that if I feel the author deserves a hugo in that category but didn't get one yet, I would vote for a less-outstanding sequel they wrote as long as I enjoyed it.)
ETA: I found someone posted a similar explanation last year: http://www.kith.org/journals/jed/2014/08/15/14938.html