Voting irregularities at the Rumble?

It's a staple of message-board griping during Rumble season that the city's oldest and most prestigious battle of the bands is somehow rigged, though in our experience -- going back nearly a decade -- the Rumble has always been conducted in complete fairness, following a tried-and-true system by which five judges rate each evening's bands according to a meticulous point system. In fact, if the judges have ever had a complaint, it's that the Rumble system is almost too rigorous. But it's nothing if not fair and balanced: the Rumble bylaws even attempt to deal with the discrepancy between judges who give higher-than-normal or lower-than-normal scores by stipulating that the single-highest and single-lowest scores are thrown out before calculating the final tally. Fans can argue about whether the "best" band won, but in terms of the actual judges' votes, the Rumble priovides a scrupulous framework that has produced definitive and incontrovertible results for two decades.

At least they did until last night, when the Men were declared the winners of the fourth (of six) preliminary-round matchups.

On Thursday night, when the judges' votes were counted, Clouds were ahead by one point. (They were ahead by slightly more before the high and low votes were discarded, per Rumble rules.) When WBCN's Mark Hamilton (who is in his first year as Rumble guru, having taken over from longtime Rumble kingpin Shred) announced the final tally in the voting room, three of the five judges said that they thought the Men should've won. A fourth judge had the Men and Clouds tied on his individual ballot. (That judge said he would've voted for Clouds to win, but hadn't realized until after he'd handed in his ballot that he'd had Clouds tied with the Men in points. Hamilton didn't let that judge adjust his ballot -- and on that particular point, at least, Hamilton was operating correctly under the Rumble's rules.) After a quick discussion, Hamtilon then decided that since a majority of the judges thought the Men should win, he would declare them the winner -- which is what happened.

Was Hamilton correct to award the night to the Men? It's reasonable to ask what the response would've been if he'd made the opposite decision and awarded the night to Clouds, despite the fact that a majority of the judges felt that the Men were the better band. And it's worth pointing out here that if, after discarding the high and low scores, the Men and Clouds had been tied, then Rumble tradition has it that the judges are polled to declare a winner -- in which case, by rights, the Men would've been fairly awarded the night by a tie-breaking vote of 3-2. One can only assume that the oh-so-close factor -- but for a point -- contributed to Hamilton's reversal of the decision.

Reasonable people will disagree about what Hamilton should've done on Thursday night: but that's precisely the point of the Rumble's meticulous voting structure, which for 20 years has provided an unambiguous method for determining the winners. To the best of our knowledge -- and we'll update if someone has better information -- a band that's won on points has never had their victory overturned, even in a case where the winning band had fewer "first-place" votes (i.e., the highest score on a judge's ballot) than a losing band. The problem with allowing the Men to "win" on Thursday night is not so much that they don't deserve to move on in the competition -- it's that the Rumble has now set a precedent that introduces a giant question mark into what has always been a cut-and-dried vote. The thing the Rumble had going for it was that even when message-board whiners cried foul because their favorite bands didn't win, the judges and the bands could back up the iron-clad integrity of the process. After Thursday night, that may no longer be the case.

At the very least, the right thing for the Rumble to do would be to immediately name Clouds to one of the wild-card slots -- it wouldn't seem fair to strip the Men of a victory that they had no hand in rigging. And going forward, the Rumble could re-assess its voting rules: if "first-place" votes should trump total points, there's nothing wrong with instituting a rule that says so -- just as long as everyone plays by the same rule.

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