the "speakers" of debate rounds, serve three functions:
judging can be more difficult than good debating, but debate relies
on the integrity and skill of the judges to make the right decisions.
Many people have their own style of judging or particular debate
tactics they admire in rounds. Each judge, however, should have
only one goal: to create a level playing field for the debaters.
Debaters work very hard and give up a lot of their time to debate.
They deserve the best efforts of the judges.
- Decide which team won the round.
- Maintain an orderly and fair debate.
- Assign speaker points and ranks to each debater along with
to Decide Who Won
may be the simplest duty of the judge, but it is also the most important.
The question each judge should ask himself or herself is: Who did
the better debating in this round?
question leads to obvious ambiguities about the phrase "better
debating." The team which presented a better argument for its
side of the debate did the better debating. Better arguments can
be presented with better style or more logically appealing, but
the substance of the arguments should outweigh purely superficial
style. A team which looked good did not necessarily win. Please
note, that the Judge does not have to agree with the side which
did the better debating, the judge merely has to recognize that
their arguments were superior. If someone decides to propose
the case "Abortion is immoral," the judge may dislike
that debater. The judge may know of twenty reasons why abortion
is not immoral. But the judge must decide if the Government's arguments
for the case statement outweigh the Opposition's arguments that
abortion is not immoral. The judge should adopt a convention known
as tabula rasa, the blank slate. A blank slate perspective means
that the judge has no preconceived notions about the round and brings
no knowledge or arguments to the round. The Government does not
lose because the judge can beat their case. The Opposition does
not lose because they did not beat the case as well as the judge
could have or in the same way the judge would. The only time the
judge should use any outside knowledge would be when one side asserts
bald-faced lies or when one side makes arguments which are so illogical
that no ordinary person would believe them. Otherwise, the debaters
must tell the judge why something does not make sense or why one
argument outweighs another argument. The judge makes their decision
about who won and who lost based on whether the arguments made in
favor of the case statement outweighed the arguments against the
case statement. The only exception to this standard comes into effect
when one side runs a tight case or a specific knowledge case. If
that happens, and the opposition argues persuasively that the
case is tight or specific knowledge, then the judge must do
one of two things. First, if the debaters can agree on a redefinition
of the case, then judge the debate as if that were the case statement.
Second, if they do not agree, then the judge must consider the circumstances
of each team in terms of how that allowed them to do "better
debating." For example, the case "Iran should not imprison
people for insulting Islam" would be a tight case. Executing
people for that reason does not make sense to the average American
college student. If the Opposition got up and said "we will
debate the case 'You are Iran; you should not imprison people for
insulting Islam,'" and the Government accepted that statement,
then the judge should use that case statement to determine the round.
If the Government refused that redefinition and then made arguments
about religious freedom, the judge should consider that these arguments
are often easy to make and do not represent impressive debating.
The arguments Opposition would be able to muster about collective
culture determining law and justice being relative to the society
around it would be far more difficult to make, and the Opposition
would receive a vast amount of credit for making even small arguments.
The judge should allocate more credit for arguments to the side
with the weaker position in the round. Three things should be noted
that only arguments about the case statement are relevant. Many
debaters make arguments which might be true and might have to do
with the general topic of the debate, but which do not deal with
the case statement. These arguments will not win a round. Whether
arguments support the case statement can be argued during the round,
so the judge must decide what issues are relevant to the case statement.
- If the Opposition calls the case tight and the case is not
tight, the Opposition should almost certainly lose the round.
Calling cases tight when they are not is a disreputable practice,
which should be heavily discouraged. Some LOs will call parts
of a case tight and say that they will only argue certain elements
of the case. This can be fine and the case can be decided on
those limited elements. If the government insists that the whole
case is not tight, then the judge must decide how to decide
the round based on the strength of the arguments presented both
about the case and about tightness.
- Both sides have to make arguments as to why a case is tight
or specific knowledge or why it is not. Opposition cannot merely
assert that "This case is tight." Nor should a judge
decide that a case is tight because the judge cannot think of
an opposition. Tightness is an argument that must be proved
like any other argument. The government must also argue to refute
the claim of tightness. Usually the Government does this by
presenting points that the Opposition could have made against
the case statement. These arguments may be made during MG or
- The reverse situation about obvious or easy to make arguments
is not necessarily true. If Government runs a case that can
be beaten with two easy and obvious arguments, the judge should
not penalize Opposition for using these arguments. Remember
that the Opposition did not get to chose the side it was on
and so can make any type of argument against the case statement.
Judges should, however, give credit to Government teams that
run open cases (cases for which the opposition arguments are
strong). Even if these cases lose, they are generally rewarded
with higher speaker points than a losing team with a tight case.
The judge must be careful not to dismiss a case which has powerful
arguments against it. Good debaters may make even more powerful
arguments for the case.
the case "You are the United Sates; do not drop an atomic bomb
on Japan in 1945." The Government decides to argue that conventional
weapons could have defeated the Japanese army. They prove that Japan
could have been defeated using a land invasion and a siege of the
main islands. The fact that Japan could have been defeated without
the atomic bomb does not necessarily imply that the bomb should
not be dropped, however. The opposition could argue that 1) aland
invasion would cost many more lives and 2) dropping the bomb served
other purposes, i.e., intimidating the Soviet Union. Despite the
fact that the Government proved its argument, the Opposition would
win the debate. Now assume that the Government also proved that
dropping the bomb is only moral if the bomb would be the
only way to win the war. Now the government has proven that its
first argument about how to win the war in a different way actually
proves the case statement. Dropping the bomb is immoral unless it
is necessary. The bomb is not necessary to win. Therefore, dropping
the bomb would be immoral. That would be a compelling reason to
vote for the Government, even if the Opposition told the judge about
the cost of the land invasion and the benefits of demonstrating
the power of the bomb to the Soviets. But now suppose that the Opposition
argues that 1) the extra lives the invasion would cost make the
invasion immoral, so both sides are immoral and 2) the United States
did not care about acting morally toward the Japanese during WWII.
The judge should then reason: "It is true that the United States
did not care about morality regarding the Japanese. Even though
I know that the Japanese are people and deserve to be treated with
the same respect as other people, the United States did not believe
that at the time. Besides, both the invasion and the bomb are immoral,
so I have to vote with the final issue which would be the benefits
of intimidating the Soviets while saving American lives." The
judge would vote for Opposition. The same kind of back on forth
could go on at many different levels regarding many different arguments.
The judge should then weigh all of these arguments in the same way
that the above example shows. The judge can use some discretion
in terms of prioritizing the arguments they consider. If a debate
were about the death penalty, the side which wins the moral arguments
would beat the side which wins the cost arguments unless one team
demonstrated that cost should trump morality in this case. The judge
can assume that certain arguments are more or less important, but
the judge should listen to arguments debaters make about why
one type of argument should be more improtant than another.
All arguments are not created equal, but the judge should let the
debaters debate over which arguments should factor more heavily
in the decision.
to Maintain a Fair and Orderly Debate
are in control of the debate round. The judge calls the various
speakers to speak and rules upon all points of order or personal
privilege. Judges are not in rounds to please debaters; they are
there to make the right decision. So be familiar with the rules,
including the rules about tight cases or new points in rebuttal.
A fair round requires a judge who understands the rules and can
rule intelligently on them.
most important way that judges maintain impartiality is to keep
a careful record or flow of the entire round on paper, including
the rebuttal speeches. After the round, the judge can look back
over the arguments that were presented in the round and evaluate
them systematically. "Sorry, I forgot about that argument"
will not make debaters happy.
should also make an effort to disclose things about their judging
style as early as possible. "I do not like economics arguments"
or "I do not understand philosophy" are poor styles of
judging. If the judge really hates these types of arguments, then
say something to both teams before the Government team prepares
its case. Still try to understand and judge the arguments that
you do not like as accurately as possible. Almost all judges listen
to every type of argument. Some other things which judges should
note about themselves include how they feel about the time limits,
any preference they have for the number of points of information
and anything that a debater could easily control that particularly
annoys the judge, for example, talking among partners or the volume
of someone’s speech. No debater should find out after the round
that a judge does not give high speaker points to people who talk
softly. It is fair to assume the debaters should speak loudly enough
to be heard and should make good arguments, but do not assume that
they know all about the judge’s personal preferences. Moreover,
a judge's personal preferences about debating style are never a
reason to vote for one side or the other and should never affect
speaker points. Judges should try to be as objective as they can
be, but a helpful warning to debaters in advance cannot hurt.
to Assign Points, Ranks, and Comments
deciding who won the debate round, the judge must assign each debater
a number of speaker points and allocate the four ranks in the round.
Speaker points usually range from 21 to 28 and ranks always one
to four. Each rank must be assigned, so that one debater gets one,
one debater gets two, one debater gets three and one debater gets
four. The judge should follow three rules:
example of these rules follows: The judge decides that the Government
has won the debate and assigns the following points and ranks:
- The team which won the round should have ranks lower or equal
to the team which lost the round.
- The team which won the round should have speaker points higher
or equal to the team which lost the round.
- Debaters with lower ranks should have higher speaker points,
so that no one has more speaker points than a debater with lower
||27 Speaker Points
||26 Speaker Points
||22 Speaker Points
||25 Speaker Points
won and it has four total ranks which is lower than the six total
ranks of the Opposition.
has a total of 49 points and Opposition has 51. This situation is
called a "low-point win." Most tournaments do not allow
this, so the judge must change the speaker point totals. The judge
bumps the MG up to 23 and the MO down to 24. Now both teams have
50. The points are equal, so rule 2 is satisfied.
PM has the highest points, so the PM must have the lowest rank,
one. The LO has points higher than either member, so the LO has
two ranks. The MG has lower ranks than the MO despite having lower
speaker points. The judge could either add a speaker point to the
MG, which would tie the two debaters at 24 and allow the judge to
give either debater better ranks, or the judge could switch the
three and the four. Considering the fact that the judge initially
felt that the MG was far below the other debaters with speaker points
of 22, the judge decides to switch the ranks and give the MO three
ranks. Now the judge has to double-check the new scores with each
of the three rules. Ranks are even now at five per team, but that
does not create a problem. Speaker points reflect the victory. Speaker
points do not conflict with ranks.
final scores appear below:
||27 Speaker Points
||26 Speaker Points
||23 Speaker Points
||24 Speaker Points
tournament may insist that a tie goes to the Opposition. The rationale
behind this rule is that the Government must prove its side, so
a neutral result means that the Government has not proven anything.
If this rule is in effect, it only applies to debates which are
tied on both ranks and speaker points. If both sides have
the same ranks, but the Government has a single more point, the
the judge has assigned points and ranks, the judge should return
the top portion of their ballot, the white sheet, to the tab room.
This will allow the tournament to proceed smoothly and make comments
to debaters more legible. The most important comment a judge
should make is called a RFD, or reason for decision. The RFD tells
the debaters which arguments proved compelling and explains the
rational behind the judge's decision to vote for Government or Opposition.
After explaining the RFD, the judge can write comments about individual
debaters. Judges should try to balance compliments with criticism
and support debaters who may be new or less experienced.