James C. McCroskey*

In the April Newsletter Calvin Heintz has recommended a new and rather unique debate ballot based on the double summary method of debate judging. At first glance this ballot would seem to be deserving of the attention of all of us who are concerned with improving the judging in academic debating. However, it is my purpose to suggest that not only do we not need this new ballot, but its use would likely be harmful to academic debating.

Let us first look at points with which we can agree with Mr. Heintz. The view that the debate ballot should reflect the judge's decisions rather than determine that decision is sound. However, this view did not originate with Austin Freeley. Such a view goes back at least as far as the debate over judging in the 1915-1917 Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking (now the Quarterly Journal of Speech). In fact, I know of no writer in the field who holds a contrary view. Even those who believe that decisions should be made on the "degree of excellence in the elements of debate" must support such a view. It would be naive indeed to believe that five or six criteria on a debate ballot encompass all of the "elements" of debate. While we are in agreement with Mr. Heintz that the ballot must reflect the decision we must note that this is not the same thing as saying that the ballot must reflect the debate. We shall turn to that point later.

Another important point is raised by Mr. Heintz. What is the purpose of debate? He asks, "Is debate persuasion and communication, or is it a game of skill?" The inference here is that it should be persuasion and communication, not a game of skill. Mr. Heintz is in good company with this position. Numerous writers have condemned the game aspects of academic debate and advocated more persuasion in the activity. This is a theoretically sound position. Unfortunately, when this theory is applied to practice it breaks down. As I have indicated in a previous article in the PHSSL Newsletter,1 I believe that academic debate is a game. But I don't believe that there is anything necessarily wrong with this. If we can make debating more rhetorical, I would favor such action. But I think we must recognize that any rhetorical activity in an academic setting must be somewhat artificial or game-like. Rhetoric or persuasion assumes a real audience to be persuaded. In tournament debate the audience is the judge. He is supposed to be an expert in the art of debate. To assume that high school or college students are actually able to persuade him, I believe, is to assume far too much. Nevertheless, if we can eliminate the game aspects of academic debating and still retain the activity, we can agree that it would be a good thing. Whether Mr. Heintz's ballot would contribute to that end, however, is another question--one to which we will turn momentarily.

As I read Mr. Heintz's article, I see the following as possible advantages to his new ballot:

1. It would reduce the game element in debating.

2. It would reflect rather than determine the decision in the debate because the lists of criteria or elements would be removed.

3. It would replace the flow chart of the judge and place the material that the judge would have put on the flow chart on the ballot where coaches and debaters can see how the debate developed.

4. It would reduce the traditional principles of debate "to a position of secondary importance."

5. The goal of judging "established by Austin Freeley" would be met, for on this ballot "we can find the debate reflected."

Let's look at these supposed advantages to see if they actually would accrue and whether accompanying disadvantages are present.

First, gamesmanship. Of all of the ballots that I have seen, this ballot introduces more of the game element than any other. If this ballot were used, affirmative teams would be placed in the need-plan-advantages straight jacket, just at the time when more and more debate teams and coaches are coming to accept the comparative advantages affirmative case as a legitimate approach. Must there always be time spent by the affirmative discussing "problems in the present situation" as this ballot suggests? Do we want to formalize man's thought processes to the point that we must always demonstrate an "inherent need" before we adopt a new policy or action? How many of us "need" a new car? How many of us "need" wall-to-wall carpeting? None. We decided to buy these things because we perceive it to be advantageous to do so. In fact, I would suggest that most of man's decisions are made on this basis. Persuasion leading to such decisions recognizes this fact. Now, if we want to make our debaters ignore this fact and stick to the rigid format of need-plan-advantages, we can. But this is nothing but an artificial game rule!

But affirmative would not be the only ones to be forced into gamesmanship by this ballot. According to this ballot the negative must defend the present system as advantageous or present a counterplan. In addition they must present disadvantages to the affirmative proposal. Where would the negative be that wanted to propose a "repairs" case? Or the one who wanted to base their entire case on "no need"? Or the one who wanted to base their entire case on "plan can't meet need"? Or the one who wanted to base their entire case on evils inherent in the affirmative plan? All of these are legitimate negative positions under our present system of academic debating.2 But under Heintz's "rules" such teams would face certain defeat. The judge would notice a complete blank for at least one part of his double summary. This ballot will not remove gamesmanship--it will introduce it in the most rigid form ever devised.

Second, reflection of decision as opposed to determination of decision. As I have indicated above, the decision for many affirmative and negative positions would be determined by this ballot as it would be by no other I have seen. But, even if it didn't have this disadvantage, we should reject the Heintz ballot. There are literally dozens of ballots available that do not have the lists of criteria which both Heintz and I oppose. Some of the better known of these are: American Forensic Association's ballots, forms B and D; National Forensic League ballot; West Point's national tournament ballot; and Pi Kappa Delta's national tournament ballot. None of these include a criteria check list. All will reflect, not determine the judge's decisions. Some of these can be purchased from the sponsoring organizations.3 But if the budget is limited, any coach can mimeograph a non-criteria ballot for his own use.

Third, transferring the flow chart to the ballot. This would be an excellent idea, if this ballot accomplished the intended end. It would force judges to take notes on the debate. It would let the debaters see what points the judge understood and what ones he did not. It would enable the coach to go over the debate to see what his debaters actually said, rather than having to depend on student memories. Unfortunately, I tried to use this ballot in this way and it just didn't work. At the recent National Intercollegiate Debate Tournament at West Point I decided to try the ballot. The result was a disaster. There wasn't room for what the debaters said. The "wrong" debater talked about disadvantages. There was no defense of the present system. Fortunately, the debate was quite one-sided. Had it not been I would have had a very difficult time reaching a decision. This ballot will have one of two possible effects: (1) The conscientious judge will still use a flow chart, but will have to spend extra time transporting a small portion of what he has written to the ballot, or (2) The less conscientious judge will write down only what there is room for on the ballot, and that isn't enough to be of any value.

The solution to this problem is to give the judge plenty of paper and carbon paper. Let him make copies of his flow chart if he is willing. Collect these copies and distribute them to the teams along with the ballots at the end of the tournament.

Fourth, reducing the importance of the traditional principles of debate. I'm not sure what is meant by the "traditional principles," but if they have anything to do with "need," "defense of status quo," or "disadvantages to affirmative plan" I can't see how these will be lessened in importance. As I have indicated above, this ballot forces the judge to consider these things whether they are relevant to a given debate or not.

Finally, the debate reflection on the ballot. It should be immediately evident to everyone that there is a big difference between reflecting a debate and reflecting a decision. The latter can be done with any ballot, even one with a lot of criteria listed. But how can one reflect a debate? It could be tape recorded and transcribed; then we could see what went on. One could take copious notes on a flow sheet and then see what when on. But is stretches the imagination pretty far to believe that you can "reflect" the debate on the six lines that the Heintz ballot provides. A better reflection would be accomplished if we merely give the judge plenty of room to write comments to each debater, something that the Heintz ballot notably lacks.

I can only conclude that the Heintz ballot will provide us with no advantages which are not already available with other ballots. In addition, it introduces several disadvantages. It increases the game element in debating. It either presents the judge with a lot of extra work or with an excuse for taking a minimal amount of notes. It overstresses certain "traditional principles" of debating. It prevents valuable reflection of a debate by minimizing space provided for judges' comments of the debaters. In short, I would not recommend its use.


1. James C. McCroskey, "Our Sophistic Heritage: Implications for Modern Forensics," Newsletter, March, 1965.

2. For a more thorough analysis of negative debating, see my article in the January, 1964, Newsletter.

3. The AFA ballots may be ordered from Prof. Jack Howe, Speech Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. The price is $5.00 per hundred. These ballots are the "self-reproducing" type that need no carbon paper.

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