Carefully read a list of numbers, wait a minute or two, and then try to recall as many of those numbers as you can. It’ll probably be easiest to remember the first and last few numbers. That’s because your brain is wired to recall things in order of primacy and recency. It’s a psychological phenomenon you have probably heard of before, and it impacts the way debate speeches are structured. For example, voting issues (aka voters) are a common way debaters use the psychology of recency to their advantage. Voters go in each team’s last speech because they are the most important points the judge needs to remember. They are a great debate tool and most judges appreciate them, but there are some drawbacks. Don’t get me wrong, I love voting issues and use them often. But it’s important to understand both sides of the issue. Let’s take a look at the arguments against voting issues in team policy debate and how to debate without them.

The Case Against Voting Issues

1. Rushed Refutation

Rushing your voters is not an option because, by summarizing the most important arguments in the round, they become the most important arguments.Persuasive voting issues take substantial time out of your final rebuttal. This means you won’t have as much time to spend on refutation, which can create a problem because all of those refutation points are what support your voting issues. If you summarize your arguments without defending them, you’re just proving why your opponents should win! There has to be a delicate balance between the time spent on voting issues and the time spent on refutation. Sometimes it’s not possible to spend enough time on both.

2. Faulty Flow

Flowing voters is possible, not optimal. I flow horizontally and put on-case arguments on one page and off-case arguments on a second page. By the time the round gets to the last two speeches, there usually isn’t enough room for the voters to fit in either of those categories because they’re already full with the last speaker’s refutation points. Plus, it’s inconvenient to put them on a fresh flow page where they’re easy to lose track of. And I know that if I struggle to find a place to flow voters, the judge probably does too.

3. Harmful Habits

My novice year, I decided I didn’t have to worry about my first speech being disorganized if I provided good voting issues in my last speech and clarified the arguments then. Oh, how wrong I was. Voters should never be an argument crutch for when your debating is subpar. You should always debate the entire round as if there will be no voting issues at the end. But I’m afraid I’m not the only debater who is guilty of relying too much on voters after a round has gotten messy. I’ve noticed a trend that the messier a round gets, the more time gets spent on voters instead of trying to sort out all the refutation points. This creates bad habits that are difficult to change. 

In light of these problems, several judges have asked my partner and me not to run voting issues. When faced with such a request, I know of teams who have decided to run “summary points” or something similar instead. I understand the temptation is strong when you’re accustomed to running voters, but let’s be honest guys, renaming isn’t going to help you. The judge is going to see right through the disguise. The best thing you can do is be prepared. So here are four tips for how to debate without voters. And just to be clear, you should be doing all of these things regardless of whether you’re running voters or not, but they’re especially important if you aren’t.

Debating Without Voting Issues

1. Strong refutation

When you don’t run voters, you have five whole minutes to completely demolish your opponents’ arguments with killer responses. What an opportunity! But you have to be careful. Don’t get caught ONLY talking about why your opponents are wrong. I’ve had rounds where I felt like my refutation was great, but I didn’t win. I realized it was because I never actually gained ground, I just barely kept my head above water. This euthanized my persuasiveness, and the judge voted for the side that sounded more convincing. 

The solution to this problem is to show the judge 1) why your opponents’ arguments are bad, and 2) why your arguments are the best ever. You can do this by “turning” your opponents’ argument against them, making it into an argument for your side. For example, say something along the lines of, “The affirmative plan doesn’t solve their harms, it makes them worse.” Of course, not all arguments can be turned. So when you do have to argue on your opponents’ ground, try using impacts that show why your side is better, not just why their side is bad. This means you need to carry the logic of your argument out all the way to its conclusion. If there’s no change with the affirmative plan (a solvency point), impact it out to the fact that a negative ballot is warranted. Keep in mind the message you want to communicate to the judge is “vote for us,” not just “vote against them.”

2. Impact calculus

Impact calculus is the best strategy you can use to prevent judge intervention. The logic is simple: it’s your job to tell the judge which arguments are the most important ones. If you don’t, they’ll have to figure it out in the judges’ lounge, and you might not be happy with the results. If impact calculus is used effectively, voting issues aren’t necessary, because the best arguments have already been weighed against one another. If you’re not sure how to use impact calculus or you just need a quick review, here are some great articles to check out:

  1. Impact Calculus 
  2. Impact Calculus: Not Just a Mental Exercise 
  3. A New Look at Impact Calculus: The Plant

3. Clear organization 

I was surprised to find out that new judges in my debate league are often told in judge orientation to request voters in their judging philosophies because the rest of the round will likely be a confusing blur for them. The fact that this is a common tactic means that we debaters haven’t been doing our jobs. Our goal should be to make the round as clear and organized as possible so that judges don’t have to rely on voting issues. A well-debated round renders voting issues completely unnecessary. So what’s the best way to improve organization? Practice! Here are some great drills you can use.

4. Argument Filter 

Believe it or not, dropping arguments can help you win a round. It’s not strategic suicide like I thought during my first few years of debate. Just one disclaimer—as the affirmative, you have to be very careful because you must defend your case thoroughly to win, so this advice is mostly directed toward negative teams. 

If you brought up an argument in your 1NC that died a painful death in the 2AC after the speaker showed that your logic was based on a misreading of their plan text, you don’t need to argue the point anymore. Just move on. Seriously.

Although this is an extreme example, the principle also holds true for other arguments that don’t hold much weight in the round. Remember that wasting your time on useless arguments will hurt you, not help you. It’s your choice to completely drop the argument without comment or quickly mitigate it and move on. The judge will appreciate it when you keep the debate focused by filtering out unimportant arguments.

The Conclusion

The purpose of voters is to clarify the round by boiling the arguments down into a few crucial points that sway the judge’s decision in your team’s favor. Using them is a great strategy that can win you the round.

Just one question. Why wait for the last two rebuttal speeches to clarify the round and persuade the judge? You shouldn’t. If you use the strategies we’ve discussed, you’ll find it’s not so hard to stick to the judge’s philosophy and win a round without voting issues.

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