Paying to vote in the Hugos: why it has to happen, and why we should acknowledge that.
1) That some people who want to vote, fairly and by reading/watching as many of the nominated works as possible, are prevented by the cost of a Supporting Membership.
2) That there is thus an untapped source of revenue for Worldcon, in the form of the Voting Memberships, and that this would be a large enough group to make up for the decrease in Supporting Membership sales.
3) That this would not interfere with the Hugo Voter's Packet.
Some of the concerns are as follows:
1) That the potential for voter fraud would increase with the reduction in initial price (IE, someone who was trying to vote-fix could buy three $40 memberships for the cost of two $60 memberships, thus allowing for a higher number of false/purchased votes).
2) That the decrease in Supporting Membership sales would not be countered by the increase in Voting Membership sales (Mary and John always buy Supporting Memberships, for $60, so they can vote; now that they can buy Voting Memberships for $40, they do that instead; Worldcon has essentially lost $40 in revenue).
3) That reducing the price too much would cause publishers to rethink participation in the Voter's Packet.
All of these concerns are valid.
The Hugos, like everything else about Worldcon, are a volunteer organization. They are not run by a fully trained team of crack voter fraud investigators; they're run by fans like you and me. Anything that increases the chances of voter fraud is something we need to seriously think about, for which reason I would not recommend reducing the cost of voting rights below $40—although I would also at that point suggest the creation of a "school age" voting membership, which costs $20 and is only available to fans ages 14-20 (high school and start of college). Trust me, when I was a senior in high school, $20 was a fortune, and I was not committing voter fraud. But I was growing into someone who would absolutely support and believe in these awards. Could someone buy themselves a Hugo? Yes. But someone could buy themselves a Hugo now. If Oprah wants a Hugo, she can buy it. People will gossip, and the community will find out, but Oprah will have her Hugo.
Now the finances are an important consideration. A lot of each Worldcon's seed money, according to my understanding, comes from Supporting Memberships and pre-Supports. If you take that away, we could wind up in a situation where there are no Hugos, because there is no Worldcon. And if the idea that the convention costs a lot of money, consider this: they have to make rockets, and Hugo rockets ain't cheap. They're incredibly high-quality pieces of statuary, produced in far too small a number to start getting "mass production discounts." (When I print a CD, for example, the first disk costs about $2,000. But the next 999 are free.) So in order to open the doors wider, we're threatening the income that keeps the infrastructure of the awards stable. That's part of why I don't recommend rushing into anything: I just think the conversation is a good thing to have.
Finally, there is the voter's packet, and that's where things get hinky. There's no guarantee, year to year, that the packet will exist; publishers are under no obligation to allow their works (often their most popular, and hence most potentially profitable) to be given away for free, and that's what this essentially is, since neither they nor the authors are seeing any royalties from this distribution channel. I am okay with that—for me to have gotten on the ballot in the first place, a lot of folks have to have read my stuff—but I don't make the final call. So what happens if we say "Voting Memberships are $40" and the publishers say "Great, you can't have our books"?
I don't know.
I know the first thing would be the authors getting punished. Orbit chose not to make the books by their nominees available in all formats this year, and while I do not criticize them for that choice, it did result in my receiving email that flat out said "I was going to vote for you and now I'm not because I hate this file format." People can be petty when thwarted, and I guarantee that if four authors have their books in the packet and one does not, that fifth author is losing, as well as taking a lot of shit. I don't like taking shit. I have plenty.
So what we need is a) a price point that does not cause the Worldcon to lose money to the point where it becomes unstable, and b) does not upset publishers, while also c) allowing fans who really want to be a part of this process to participate. And that's why I don't want to see the amendment that would keep this from ever becoming possible to go through. Not because I think the Hugos should be free, or want to see it turn into an even bigger popularity contest than it already is: because I think it's important to encouraging participation in the awards from an ever-growing number of fans. Whether it's saying "individuals can cede their voting rights to the convention to be re-sold for a lower than Supporting rate to low-income fans" or "teens vote cheap" or "we need time to think," I believe that thinking is what needs to happen. Not closing off the conversation when it's just getting underway.