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In Voting Issues Part I, we discussed three common problems surrounding voters and how to avoid them by not running voters at all. But this doesn’t mean you should never run voters! It’s important to understand how to debate without voters, but at the same time many judges expect them and they can be very helpful in a round. So (you guessed it!) this article is going to cover some general tips for how to run them well. Before we do that though, let’s examine three main strategies people use to run voting issues. 

3 Voting Issue Strategies:

  1. Running only voters. If you’ve ever had a round in which any semblance of organization was utterly obliterated by the time you were supposed to give the final rebuttal for your team, you understand how truly tempting this tactic is. And if your judge is new to debate and has hardly been flowing for the last six or seven speeches, it’s not such a bad route to take. But in almost any other case, using this strategy is a clear sign of lazy debating because it ignores refutation. Instead, practice flowing and tagging so you can at least keep your own team’s speeches as organized as possible and try to run a few responses before you give your voters. If you’re hitting a team whose speeches have been messy, your team’s ability to get the round back on track will gain you plenty of brownie points with the judge and boost your credibility.
  1. Refuting first, then running voters. This is probably the most common tactic, and it often works well. The benefit is that it doesn’t neglect refutation, but it can be impractical if there are a lot of arguments on the flow. Sometimes the laws of space and time simply don’t allow you to get through all your responses and run our voters. And speed talking to a parent judge at 7:30 AM after they’ve had three hours of sleep and before they’ve been adequately caffeinated is probably not the best idea. Is there any other option? Glad you asked.
  1. Running voters as refutation. You’ve probably noticed before that many of your responses are incredibly similar to the analysis in your voting issues. That’s because you’re not allowed to give any new arguments. As a result, your voters are, for the most part, restatements of arguments you’ve already given. Instead of this repetition, just tag your voting issues as responses! It sounds something like this: “You can tag my response to their argument X as voting issue one, Y.” Alternatively, you can run the voting issues as an impact. For example: “You can tag my response to their argument X as Y. The impact to this is voting issue one, Z.” This tactic allows your voters to be dispersed throughout your refutation, giving you enough time for both.

10 Tips for Running Voters: 

  1. Remember the purpose of voting issues. Voting issues are NOT just a summary of the entire round. They do summarize, but only the important points. Not every argument deserves to be a voting issue. But how do you determine if an argument deserves to be a voting issue? By knowing what a voting issue is: an issue that should determine the judge’s vote. This means each voter should cause the judge to vote for you. Think of it this way: if you have only one voting issue on the flow, that one voting issue should win you the ballot. As a side note, this means that “dropped arguments” should never be a voting issue. If your opponents drop an argument, it’s the argument that should win you the round, not the fact that they dropped it. Pull the argument through as a response or voter and feel free to explain that it was dropped, but don’t make the fact that it was dropped a voting issue.
  1. Balance offense and defense. In a nutshell, show in your voters both why your opponents are wrong (offense) and why you’re right (defense). If you only focus on defense, you might win those defensive arguments, but your opponents can show how their arguments outweigh your defensive arguments and win the round. Conversely, if you only focus on offense, your own case, which is foundational to the rest of your arguments, can become so corroded by your opponents’ refutation that they win the round.
  1. Keep it big picture. Leave the minor points in the round out of your voters and show the judge the big picture of what will happen if they vote for one side or the other. For negative, the stock issues and strong disadvantages should always make it into the voters. For affirmative, the same is true of the harms, solvency, and advantages. 
  1. Only use arguments you know you’ve won. There’s one disclaimer to including any type of argument in your voters. If there’s a good chance you’ve lost the argument, or if it’s been turned and used against you, don’t make it a voting issue. It sounds intuitive, but I know plenty of debaters that have done it, myself included. For me, it usually happened because I was overconfident in my own responses or just trying to fill time. But if you think about it, making a lost argument a voter is basically handing the judge a reason to vote against you. So next time you’re planning out your voting issues, double check them to make sure they’ve been defended well. No one wants to hear a debater spend two minutes on a voter about a topicality press the Affirmative team crushed in their 2AC.
  1. Don’t give too many. Having ten voting issues is a sure sign that either a) you’re not going big picture enough, or b) you’ve forgotten the purpose of voting issues—each one should be a winning argument. Reanalyze your voters with that in mind and find a way to condense them. You shouldn’t have more than four voting issues. If you simply must include some of the finer points of the argumentation, run subpoints. 
  1. Use the “two worlds” tactic. This is something you might have heard of before, and it’s a great strategy that definitely accomplishes the goal of going big picture. It’s exactly what it sounds like—run two overall voting issues of what the world of the negative looks like and what the world of the affirmative looks like. Run your world last, and show why it’s better. 
  1. Explain and impact your voting issues. It’s one thing for us as debaters to understand that each voting issue warrants the judge’s ballot, but don’t assume the judge knows that! Use good rhetoric to explain to the judge why each voter should win you the round. You could even say something like, “Even if we’ve lost every other argument in the round, this one issue means we deserve your ballot.”
  1. Adapt to your judge. One of the most important things to consider as you craft your voting issues is which arguments seem to be the most important to the judge and which they seem to like the best. Consider both their judging philosophy as well as their facial expressions/body language. Don’t be creepy, but keep an eye on your judge’s reactions throughout the round.
  1. Preempt affirmative responses. If you’re negative, your last speech is not the last speech. We’ve all experienced one of those rounds in which you or your partner gives a bomb last speech and the affirmative team destroys it with new evidence and responses in the 2AR. Abusive? Yep. Does it win them the round? Unfortunately yes. The solution is to do your best to preempt affirmative arguments. Here’s a great article on how to stop losing rounds to abuse.
  1. Tie in the criterion/burdens. If there is a criterion or if there are burdens on the flow, make sure to tie them back in when you give your voters. Use your voters to show why you’ve won the criterion and upheld the burden(s), and therefore why you should win. Doing this makes the round feel more cohesive and adds credibility to your arguments.

Work on putting these strategies into practice so you can start running voting issues more effectively and avoid common mistakes. Providing a well-worded and clear summary of the important arguments in a round is something many tired judges will thank you for!

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