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The Reverse Voting Issue in LD Debate by Paras Kumar
Paras received 5 bids his senior year, including winning Harker, top speaker and finalist at Stanford, quarterfinalist at Bronx, semi-finalist at Voices RR, and octofinalist at the 2011 TOC. Paras was the only student in octos of TOC his senior year who competed independently and without a formal coach. Since graduating from Rancho Bernardo, Paras has drilled extensively at varying points over the last few years with Regan Grishaber (5th speaker + semifinalist 2012 TOC), Jacob Pritt (top speaker + octofinalist 2012 TOC), Pranav Reddy (top speaker + champion 2014 Glenbrooks), Chris Kymn (finalist 2014 TOC), and many other successful debaters. Paras is currently taking a gap year between his junior and senior year at UC Berkeley, where he is getting a B.S. in Environmental Science. You can reach him by email at pkumar15 AT berkeley DOT edu.
I just went to my first debate tournament in 20 months and am saddened by how esoteric, prevalent, and irresolvable theory debate has become. It’s like y'all are afraid of engaging each other on the actual topic. Here is my formal reasoning for considering theory and T as reverse voting issues (RVI) when they are originally read as reasons to reject the debater in the context of Lincoln-Douglas debate. I argue that the debater who called the other debater a cheater should lose the round if it turns out their opponent did not in fact cheat. The RVI forces argumentative responsibility, combats time skew, and creates reciprocal access to theoretical arguments. This ultimately decreases theory debates and encourages clash on the topic, something there was a disturbing dearth of at CPS.
This article is structured in 3 parts: (1) answering common objections to the RVI, (2) my general observations and advice from years of coaching and competing on this debate and (3) why RVI’s are stupid and illustrate the need to seriously reconsider expanding LD rounds.
For the sake of simplicity, my thoughts are written from the perspective of being an affirmative, but RVI’s are equally necessary to protect the 2NR in a world where the 1AR is the first speech in the debate to introduce theory as a reason to reject the debater. Feel free to bracket and change “aff” to “neg” and vice versa. A lot of my weighing arguments are specific to 1AR time skew, but they are equally (if not more) relevant to 2N time skew if the original theory shell was introduced in the 1AR. All my weighing arguments are supercharged in this scenario due to lack of a 3N to deal with 2AR responses to the counterinterp.
A big assumption my arguments make is that we should try to debate the topic and minimize theory debate. Ross Brown wrote some fantastic comments on nsdupdate a few years ago about the benefits of theory debate (article title is “Avoiding Frivolous Theory"). I won’t engage in the theory good/bad debate here—it’s simply too much for the scope of this article. The one thing worth quickly noting is that the “impact turn, theory is good” response to my article begs the question of uniqueness. We still get the benefits of arguing theory in a world with RVI’s, especially since one of the biggest benefit of RVI’s is encouraging debaters to change the voter of theory from reject the debater to reject arg. So theory debates are still going to be prevalent, but those debates will no longer be so one-sided.
OBJECTION 1: RVI’S CAUSE A “CHILLING EFFECT” AND DETER NEG FROM READING THEORY AGAINST ABUSIVE POSITIONS, THEREBY FURTHER PERPETUATING ABUSE
1) Turn—if aff position is abusive, RVI’s do nothing to aid the 1AR. An aff with 2 aprioris will lose the interp/counterinterp debate on aprioris good/bad every single time. Winning the RVI doesn’t win the aff the debate because aff still has to go win offense to the counter-interp and show that the original affirmative position was indeed fair. This means only bad theory arguments are “chilled”, which is good because it forces negs to think twice before reading stupid bi-directional interps. This is a big internal link into topic education and clash. When the 1N is deterred from turning to theory every round, we actually listen to debates about the topic.
2) Non-unique—a world without RVI’s lets theory be a no-risk preclusive layer, so negs are incentivized to always read theory to vertically layer the debate, e.g. Nate Socolof his junior year. Worst-case scenario for the 2N is kicking the theory debate and going for substance, which is a fantastic worst case because it renders all 1ar time spent on the preclusive layer irrelevant. Best-case scenario for 2N is they win on theory and the round is over, regardless of how substance plays out.
OBJECTION 2: RVIS DESTROY SUBSTANTIVE DEBATE BECAUSE THE ENTIRE ROUND COLLAPSES TO RVI
1) Turn—irony is that neg introduced theory in the first place. If neg were so concerned with having a substantive debate, it wouldn’t have read theory. Usual response here is: “but reading theory was crucial because the AC was unfair.” And here’s the key point: if the neg is right, the RVI is irrelevant! Unfair affs lose the debate on theory. So neg is in a double-bind: either it legitimately read theory and the RVI doesn’t matter, or it read theory as a strategic time suck in which case having a RVI is good because it forces neg to have more argumentative responsibility before she calls her opponent a cheater. This ultimately leads to more long-term substantive education because negs are encouraged to clash directly with the 1AC instead of introducing preclusive layers.
2) Link defense—even if the above turn isn’t true, the quality of substantive debate that happens post introduction of theory is not good. Without the RVI, the 1AR either over or under invests on theory, which the 2N then either collapses into or out of. If the 1AR spent 3 minutes on substance and 1 minute on theory, the 2N will spend the majority of its time on theory. If the 1AR spent 1 minute on substance and 3 minutes on theory, the 2N will spend the majority of its time on substance. Substantive education is only valuable when arguments are developed and both debaters are clashing on key points made in the debate, which almost never happens post-introduction of theory.
OBJECTION 3: RVI’S AREN’T LOGICAL—AFF HAS PRIMA FACIE BURDEN TO BE FAIR, SHOULDN’T BE REWARDED FOR BEING FAIR
1) No link—RVI’s don’t say vote aff because the aff is fair, they say vote aff to punish neg for needlessly calling aff a cheater. RVI’s are constructed using the principles of logic. Claiming they are not logical just begs the question.
2) No impact—need some reason why logic is a voter. These arguments (if presented, which is rare) terminate in fairness or education claims. We can just weigh the harms of being illogical (if the first two no-links are wrong) versus 1AR time skew.
OBJECTION 4: THEORY IS NOT A “NIB”. ALERNATE RECOURSE EXISTS—YOU CAN JUST READ NEW THEORY IN THE 1AR AND WEIGH
1) Link defense—this is a true argument that’s great in the abstract, but far less practical in application. Consider 3 hypotheticals:
(A) If the 1N strategy was NC + theory + AC framework+ turns to AC, the 1AR’s “new” theory shell would have to argue: (i) reading an NC is unfair or (ii) turning the aff is unfair or (iii) the particular NC read was unfair because it lacked turn ground (or wasn’t predictable etc.)
(B) If the 1N strategy was theory + turns to AC, the 1AR’s “new” theory shell would have to argue: (iv) turning the AC is unfair or (v) neg must read an NC/CP/PIC.
(C) If the 1N strategy was reading permissibility negates + theory + permissibility triggers + NC + aff framework answers + turns to aff, the 1AR’s “new” theory shell would have to argue: (vi) permissibility bad or (vii) some combination of arguments mentioned above.
(i) or (ii) or (iv) or (v) are shells the 1AR can read, but the sheer stupidity of those arguments should indicate how bad the quality of this recourse can sometimes be. Reading shells like “your neg leaves no turn ground” or “neither side should read a NIB” or “you shouldn’t read both theory and substantive framework justifications” or “neither side should get access to permissibility” are far more persuasive, but the key point is that the aff may not functionally have access to them if the 1N was smart and didn’t do anything proactively unfair.
2) RVI’s meet—reading an RVI is a new theory shell. The interpretation is that negs must have argumentative responsibility. Calling someone a cheater and claiming they should lose as a result is a serious claim that needs to have consequences.
3) Turn—this argument directly contradicts the argument that RVI’s ruin substantive debate by encouraging the 1AR to collapse to theory. If topical education is important, this recourse moves us further away from it because the only recourse the aff has in the 1AR is to read MORE theory, creating a race to the bottom to see who can read more shells. This race to the bottom is highly incentivized in LD due to the 1AR’s desire to avoid having to win 2 layers to access the ballot (i.e. substance + theory). Tom vs. Akhil (semis of 2014 CPS) was one of the most well done, intricate and technical theory debates I’ve ever seen. The affirmative opted to use this form of recourse and the result was a debate that mentioned the topic rarely if at all post the 1NR.
You might argue, but RVI’s put the 2AR in the position of winning 2 layers as well! True—but 2 points:
a) Refer to all the arguments in objection 9 and
b) My proposal would make theory an auto-RVI, so really it’s just one layer
4) Turn—current structure of LD makes this recourse problematic:
A) Lack of 3NR and 3AR means that inevitably the judge has problems resolving the new 1AR shells. The neg only gets to address the new shell once (i.e. in the 2N), which means the judge is forced to do comparative analysis for the neg after the 2AR, which sucks because that results in judge intervention. Assuming an RVI solves since both debaters get at least 2 speeches on the interp/counterinterp debate (if we are discussing a round in which theory was introduced in the 1N, not 1AR), which is crucial since the second speech is where impact and link comparison becomes most relevant. The necessity of speaking twice on the game winning issue seems obvious to me. Imagine a debate 3 speeches long—that would make no sense since whoever spoke second would get the short end of the stick. They would have to simultaneously respond to the entire 1st speech AND predict how the next speech will interact with the current one.
B) Length of speech times means the depth in which each individual shell is analyzed is compromised. When the debate is limited to one shell (which the RVI does), the validity of the rule proposed by the negative is analyzed in depth. When the debate centers around 2+ mutually exclusive rules, the debate over the validity of each individual rule is fragmented due to both short speech times and strategic decisions. This kills progress over theory norms. An in-depth exploration of one interp/counterinterp at a time better allows all parties in the room to see who is on the right or wrong side of that particular debate.
OBJECTION 5: RVI’S ARE UNFAIR TO NEG BECAUSE IT ALLOWS THE AFF TO READ AN ABUSIVE AFF AND PREP FOR THE THEORY DEBATE FOR MONTHS
1) No link—if the aff position is abusive, 2N should be able to deconstruct and prove abuse regardless of how well frontlined the 1AR is. Good theory debaters are going to win the skep triggers bad debate in the 2N every single time. Get good at pointing out the missing links in blippy 1AR shit storms—this objection is essentially “but please have sympathy for me, I suck.”
2) Non-unique—neg had equal opportunity to front-line the 2N. No reason aff should lose because it had frontlines and prepared for a debate.
3) No link—neg should read a more nuanced interp that avoids generic 1AR frontlines. This actually fosters and encourages deeper exploration into theoretical issues.
4) Tech differences shouldn’t be presumed. We should assume that the aff is equally good at theory and is equally technically efficient as neg. Obviously the aff will abuse RVI’s if they are debating an inferior neg theory debater. This is a concern that Bob Overing has pointed out on nsdupdate, and it is valid. I sympathize with this concern but ultimately feel our paradigms should be decided from the perspective that both debaters are equally good—it seems obvious that good debaters will abuse the rules to beat bad debaters. Welcome to the wonderful world of competitive activities—bad debaters have the onus to get better, our paradigms shouldn’t accommodate for them.
5) Alt solvency—judges need to have a higher threshold for accepting blippy responses. Blippy arguments usually lack impacts or warrants, and giving 2AR leeway to explain more in depth the arguments that were presented briefly in the 1AR is a privilege judges should stop giving. This requires judges to have more humility and openly admit in RFD’s that they didn’t understand or flow the argument first time around because it was so damn blippy.
6) Weighing—abuse generated by not granting aff RVI’s outweighs. Lots of arguments here. For the sake of my sanity and time, which is already being compromised, I’ll just include one that comes to mind immediately: probability. We can never verify pre-round abuse claims, unlike the in round impact on 1AR and 2AR rebuttal time. Verifiability key because theory punishes debaters for violating rules, but that presumes we know they violated in the first place. Also very good arguments on magnitude, e.g. abuse from frontlines reversible with better prep by the neg for the 2N but 1AR time skew has no in-round recourse.
OBJECTION 6: WHEN AFF READS RVI AND COLLAPSES TO THEORY, THIS IS UNFAIR TO THE NEGATIVE BECAUSE THE 2N DOESN’T GET TO ACCESS ALL THE TIME IT SPENT ON SUBSTANCE FROM THE 1N
1) Turn—neg should only call aff a cheater and ask the judge to vote down the aff if she’s ready for the entire debate to collapse to this issue. Theory is a serious claim, and it should be treated seriously. This is equivalent to saying 1AR collapse to NC framework is unfair because all the time in the 1N spent turning the AC and beating the aff framework is lost. The time/strat skew is the negs fault. RVI’s force negs to have more argumentative responsibility, which is currently missing in the status quo.
2) Weighing—1AR time skew worse on duration without RVI’s. Aff time skew happens in 2 speeches while neg time skew happens only to the first negative speech. Theory moots the value of the AC and no RVI’s allow 2N to cherry pick out of the best arguments made by the 1AR by collapsing out of either substance or theory. By the time the time skew stops happening, the 2N gets 6 minutes to compensate, while the aff only gets 3. Compare this to a world with RVI’s where the 2N still gets all 6 minutes on the deciding issue in the debate (i.e. theory), AND access to at least a portion of the 1N (usually at least 1 minute, if not longer). This means worst case scenario the time skew caused by this objection evens the playing field, since aff and neg now spend equal time talking about the winning issue in the debate, i.e. ~7 minutes.
OBJECTION 7: RVI’S GIVE AFF TOO MUCH POWER BY ALLOWING AFF TO DEVIATE FROM AN ALREADY RECIPROCAL ARRANGEMENT. RVI GIVES THE AFF TWO POTENTIAL THEORY OUTS—1AR CAN CHOOSE THEORY OR THE RVI, BUT THE NEG DOESN’T NECESSARILY GET THAT CHOICE (IF THE RVI IS RUN, THERE’S NOTHING FOR THE 2NR TO RVI). THIS IS NON-RECIPROCAL BECAUSE NOW AFF CAN WIN THEORY DEBATE VIA EITHER OFFENSE OR DEFENSE
1) Weighing—the violation of reciprocity in the world without RVI’s has a much larger impact on the direction of the debate than the violation of reciprocity caused by affs reading RVI’s. Aff still has to beat the interp originally read by the neg to access the RVI, so the affs violation of reciprocity just lets the aff meet a burden that is necessary for the aff but not the neg. Losing the RVI debate puts the 2N in the position of winning their original shell. This leads to no time skew whatsoever for the 2N because she can go all in on the issue she originally introduced, giving her a 2:1 second advantage since the 2AR is 3 minutes (360 sec /180 sec =2 sec / 1 sec).
On the flip side, not having theory as an RVI bifurcates the 1AR. Since theory comes before all other arguments, aff has to beat theory AND win the case debate, while neg only has to win the theory debate OR the case debate in the 2N, meaning they can choose which layer of the round they want to collapse into in the next speech while aff has to go for both in the 1AR. This is the definition of non-reciprocal strategies: aff has to win both layers in the 1AR while neg gets to cherry pick and go for the layer the 1AR did worse on.
This also skews time tradeoffs because no matter how the aff handles the 1ar, the 2N can make half of it not matter. This gives neg the full value of its 2N, while large chunks of aff rebuttals are potentially functionally useless if the 2N collapses to one layer. And, if the 2N goes for both layers, it gives the 2AR a 2:1 burden. The 2AR has to beat theory and then win case to win the ballot. In 3 minutes.
2) No link—giving the aff a unique way to beat theory that neg doesn’t get to have access too is solved by the fact that the neg always gets to react to affirming and chooses whether to introduce theory, so it doesn’t need RVI’s. Also not true because neg does get RVI’s if the 1N doesn’t read theory.
3) No impact—giving the 2N an RVI is functionally useless in a world where the aff doesn’t read theory claiming that the neg cheated and should thus lose. The negative is complaining about losing access to a strategy it would never use.
OBJECTION 8: NO 3NR TO RESOLVE NEW 2AR RESPONSES ON RVI
1) Non-unique—all forms of recourse against theory that aren’t the RVI run into the same problem. By this logic, any new issues introduced by the 1AR fundamentally skew the round due to lack of 3NR. This argument illustrates why LD rounds are currently too short.
2) Weighing—violation of reciprocity is worse than potential judge intervention. Judge intervention is to some degree inevitable, since no 3N means some level of comparative analysis has to be done by the judge in all good debates. But, the 1AR being put in a NIB isn’t inevitable since the RVI provides aff equal access on theory. Also, judge intervention is bad because it allows the judge to vote off of arguments not articulated by one side of the debate, but the 1AR time skew has a far greater size of link into advantaging one side because it structurally precludes one side from making arguments in the debate that have equal access to the ballot.
OBJECTION 9: RVI + THEORY IS HARDER TO WIN THAN SUBSTANCE + THEORY
1) Turn—this argument is altruistic because the neg is telling aff that the aff will have a harder time winning the debate in a world where theory is an RVI. Altruistic theory is bad because it destroys the purpose of theory as a check on abuse. If the neg can win by telling the aff what is most fair for the aff, neg will always stand up and read a shell in the 1N claiming that the 1AC could have set itself up to win better had it read <INSERT MORE STRATEGIC AFF HERE> instead.
2) Non-unique—either way the 2AR has to win 2 layers to the debate, meaning structurally the burden for the aff is the same in both scenarios.
3) Only possibility of establishing uniqueness is by winning some benefit exists when affs go for substance instead of the RVI. Most common argument here is RVI’s cause aff to lose access to all substantive arguments read in the 1AC, meaning the aff only functionally has 7 minutes of speech time (4 min 1AR + 3 min 2AR = 7). This presumes aff can win substance, which is an assumption that can’t be generalized and is something that is a contextual judgment dependent on the quality of the 1AC and responses to it during the 1N. Winning the RVI is at worst just as easy as winning substance because RVI’s are a true argument in the context of LD.
5) Turn—this argument is contradictory with all arguments saying RVI’s make it harder for negatives to win the debate (e.g. objections 6-10). It cannot be the case that RVI’s make the round harder for both the aff and neg. By definition, if the round is harder for the aff with an RVI, it is easier for the neg.
The biggest deterrent to reading RVI’s is dealing with the dump. Almost all negs have a pre-written list of reasons prepared why theory shouldn’t be an RVI. The above list of objections is a decently thorough compilation of arguments (although many more arguments exist that this article couldn’t cover for the sake of space). Here’s some advice for how to deal with them:
ONE: GROUP RESPONSES
I structured the objections to aid you in seeing the types of responses people make on RVI’s, In general, there are 5 categories of argumentation:
(i) RVI’s set bad norms (objections 1-3)
(ii) RVI’s are unnecessary (objections 3-4)
(iii) RVI’s are unfair to the debater who originally ran theory (objections 5-8)
(iv) RVI’s are unfair to the debater reading the RVI (objection 9)
(v) Internal link defense against time skew and reciprocity (not included in this article)
Dealing with responses in terms of categories of argumentation is a much faster way to weigh than going line-by-line on all of them. The approaches here are endless. 2 examples are:
A) You can group category (i) of responses and argue that norm setting isn’t the purpose of theory. Norm setting is empirically denied as people read contradictory theory arguments all the time. Many people read RVI or no RVI depending on which side of the theory debate they're on. So double bind- either a) norms don't exist and are just a disingenuous tool used by debaters, or b) norms can exist but are too weak to be followed. This is supercharged by the fact that nobody is likely to care about one individual round, or even hear about it in the first place. There are thousands of rounds on any given topic, so at best the impact is mooted.
B) You can group category (iii) and argue that 1AR time skew outweighs, even if they win a link into one of the particular arguments. This argument is going to be less effective than doing weighing against each individual objection, but it can still get the job done. Adam Tomasi vs. Pranav Reddy (Greenhill videos) is a really good example of a debate that utilized weighing in the 1AR on the RVI debate.
TWO: POINT OUT INCONSISTENCIES IN THE DUMP—THEY WILL BE THERE
Many people argue that RVI’s kill substantive debate and that the solution to giving reciprocal access on theory should be to encourage affs to read more theory. See a problem there?
Many people also argue that RVI’s make the round way too difficult for the negative while also making the debate harder for the affirmative, i.e. combining category (iii) and (iv). It can’t be the case that RVI’s makes the debate harder for both sides—something’s got to give.
Other contradictions exist, but I don’t want to give you all the answers. Think deeply about the internal consistency of all the arguments against the RVI, and you will start to notice contradictions.
Best-case scenario for the debater arguing for an RVI is that the 2AR or 1AR sucks. Worst-case scenario is that it is impossible. Being able to make one good response to each argument in the dump is a skill that isn’t perfected overnight. Several tips:
a) Find someone to do drills with who is comfortable on this debate (e.g. me :P)
b) Watch videos and give the 1AR until you have it down perfect (2 good videos that come to mind immediately are Pranav vs. Tomasi at Greenhill and Law Magnet DD vs. Evanston JS at Valley)
c) Have frontlines written so you can just worry about the interp/counterinterp debate
d) Adapt to your judge. There were judges my senior year who just weren’t persuaded by the RVI. It is NOT worth your time to read the RVI in front of these judges
FOUR: UTILIZE COMPETING INTERPS
If you read your RVI shell as an interp in the 1AR or the 1AC, the neg is forced to respond with a counterinterp. This forces neg to codify its anti-RVI arguments in a coherent and offensive way, letting you ignore large portions of the 1N or 2N dump. This makes weighing easier for the aff and also lets the aff better point out which arguments are defensive on the RVI debate and have no impact (such as the RVI’s are not logical argument).
The beauty of weighing is it allows you to concede some arguments on the flow and still win the debate. If the interp/counterinterp debate takes longer than expected, win a link into some benefit for the RVI, and then weigh that benefit against the disads. It’s ok to concede there are disads to a world where theory is treated as an RVI. That doesn’t lose you the debate if you are smart.
I am personally really persuaded by objection 3 and 4 in Part 1. I agree with the anti-RVI crowd that we shouldn’t reward the aff for being fair, and that alternative recourse exists. But, I think those arguments are correct in a vacuum, or in an event where the rounds are significantly longer, e.g. policy debate.
The irony about my position is that I really think it's a plan B. Plan A should be to make the debate round longer. Every minute we increase the debate round by is another minute in which the aff can explain why the theory argument is stupid AND STILL WIN SUBSTANCE! We should seriously have an honest and critical dialogue with people in the LD community from a policy background (such as Scott Phillips, Greg Achten, Tim Case, Mike Bietz, among others). I think these people can offer real insights on the impact of increasing the number of speeches and length of speeches on theory debates. It's not like theory debate in policy debate is substantively different from theory in LD. Theory is theory is theory. They still discuss ground, literature, fairness, education, etc., but they just do it in a significantly different manner than LD does. Theory is currently a less utilized strategy in policy debate than it is in LD, and I personally feel a big part of that is because the strategic benefit from reading bad arguments is really low when the opposition has numerous opportunities to expose the flaws in said bad argumentation.
The RVI is the 2nd best solution. Best solution is to increase speech times. But should we continue to have a 5 speech event, there's no question the RVI is necessary. Theory without the RVI makes affirming unnecessarily hard, especially when you debate someone who has mastered the strategy of NC, T/Theory, 5-8 developed framework responses, and 3-4 developed turns on the aff. What are you going to do in that 1ar? Beat theory and turn the NC? Beat theory, beat framework dump, and the turns? That 1AR sucks a lot more than it would normally because they ran theory! If we create a norm making theory an RVI, it'll force debaters who are good at theory to at least reconsider their decision to run theory because now the 1ar collapse to theory is sufficient for these debaters to lose! Again, this does not make it so that affs will become abusive. If it's abusive, win the interp! Why is that so hard to do? It's abusive!