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A lot of 2NRs follow the same pattern. First, the speaker gives an intro. Then, they explain that they’re going to, first, respond to the aff on each line of the flow, and, second, give voting issues. They then follow through on this promise. In this article, I aim to explain why I believe this approach is ineffective and to propose an alternative view of the 2NR.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways of applying the refutation-then-voters paradigm I describe above. The first and most common is that neg will, in fact, respond to everything before getting to voters, at which point the voters simply serve to reiterate some of those same arguments already covered in direct refutation. I conjecture that this occurs so frequently because it’s the most natural method. Put yourself in the shoes of a second negative speaker during the 1AR. As aff makes each of their arguments, the second negative is, as a product of habit, writing down responses on each line of argument as they come, perhaps leaving a couple of more troublesome arguments to be dealt with during prep time. Theoretically, this 2NR would be “complete” without any voters (insofar as it wouldn’t drop anything), but the 2N knows that their judge likely expects voting issues, and so they tack them on at the end. The problem with this approach, however, is its redundancy: for every argument covered in voting issues, the speaker covers the same argument twice, which wastes time.
Thus, some speakers apply refutation-then-voters differently: they respond to some arguments during the “refutation” portion of their speech, and then they respond to what they perceive to be the most important arguments in their voters. This avoids the issue of redundancy, but it also runs into another problem. Namely, it signals to the judge that some arguments are less important than others. Assuming that neg isn’t spending time on arguments that, even if won, don’t result in their picking up the ballot, all of their arguments are equally important insofar as they all have the same result: a neg win.
Necessarily, then, the refutation-then-voters strategy either puts too much emphasis on some arguments (by wasting time) and/or detracts from the impact of others. I suggest that to avoid this issue, negatives instead view voting issues as an opportunity to explain the relationship between framework and their substantive arguments rather than serving as crystallization of the substantive arguments themselves. To do this, the 2NR should, one, explicitly identify in some number of broad terms what aff needs to do to win the round, and, two, aim to explain why aff fails to do that. For example, suppose aff has agreed to frame the round in terms of the burden of proof (significant harm, solvency, net advantage). Barring something like a topicality argument (which only changes the round by bringing a fourth burden into the question), all of neg’s arguments can be viewed as asserting that aff fails one of those burdens. The 2N while flowing responses to the 1AR, for example, might write down a number beside each of their responses indicating which burden it “falls under.” They would then have one voting issue for each burden, and under each voting issue, they would address the corresponding arguments.
This might seem like a small change, but it creates two major benefits. One, it avoids the issue of judges perceiving certain arguments as unimportant simply because neg didn’t label them as voters. But second, by shifting the voting issue narrative from “we win arguments A, B, and C” to “aff fails burdens X, Y, and Z,” neg explicitly terminalizes their impacts for the judge. That is, the only reason neg cares about winning argument B is because it shows that aff fails some burden. When the judge is writing down taglines that emphasize the “why” rather than the “what” of negative arguments, they’re necessarily more likely to understand their importance, and, more critically, vote on them.
Hope y’all found this helpful!
Ben Brown is the blog manager for Ethos Debate LLC. He competed in Team Policy debate throughout high school and is currently a student at Hillsdale College. When not debating, Ben can be found wishing he was debating, playing board games, or hanging out with friends and family.