Debate Tip of the Week: Define “Voting Issue”

It’s very rare that I see any debater actually define what they mean when they say “voting issue.” Typically the implication seems to be that a voting issue is “arguments I have a fondness for” or “a convenient grouping of arguments so I can reorganize the 2NR.” If that’s the case, why use this strange phrase of “voting issue?” Why not “primary contentions” or “major points” or “things?”

As with many cases of poor argumentation, the words have been warped beyond their proper meaning. If we take the phrase “voting issue” at face value we can infer a decent amount of meaning. In a debate round, you’re addressing the judge and the judge is ultimately going to vote for a team. So it’s pretty easy to get to where “voting issue” means “an issue that should influence your vote.”

Now, if we make the assumption that all arguments are meant to influence the judge’s vote (I think we can agree on that), and that the phrase “voting issue” ought to mean something separate than “an argument,” what do we have left? I humbly suggest that the most practical, logical use for the term is “issue(s) that justifies a vote for us by itself.” I mean, you want to tell the judge why they should vote for you, so it makes sense to conveniently label all of those reasons.

But what debaters tend to do instead is to have three voting issues and conclude their speech with “for XYZ reasons please vote for us.” Does that mean the judge has to agree with X, Y, AND Z in order to vote for them? Are you suggesting that if I fully agree with arguments Y and Z but find X a bit suspect I should vote for the other team? This seems like a harrowing strategy — putting all of your eggs in the single basket of the judge agreeing with three separate arguments as the only path to victory!

So let’s give “voting issue” some meaning and say that it’s an argument or group of arguments that independently justify a ballot in your favor. Once you start thinking of the round this way, you’ve then got to think of how you’re going to justify such statements. At that point, you’re actually thinking strategically.

There’s no better feeling than to step up to a 2NR or 2AR knowing you’ve got multiple independent reasons for the judge to vote for you, and you can justify them all. “Take your pick!” you might tell the judge. When you can do that you’ve truly dominated a round.

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