Four Key Elements To Using A Judging Ballot

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
Four Key Elements To Using A Judging Ballot

Judging Ballots

Many debaters are keen to try judging debates to expand their range of debate skills. Other debate judges are teachers, parents or coaches who want to help out in local tournaments. Either way, it can be confusing understanding how to use a debate judging ballot. In this article we look at four key elements of using a debate judge ballot – filling it out correctly, knowing the right scoring range, leaving comments, and submitting ballots both in person and online.

Filling out a ballot

So you're looking to gain experience in debate adjudication. The first thing you need to do when filling out a debate judge ballot is to ensure that all of the information on it is correct. If you are lucky, the ballot has already been pre-filled with the relevant information such as your name, debate room, round number and so on – but you can’t count on that. Check the information carefully and make sure everything is completed correctly. You should ask the debaters to state their names and make sure you have them listed in the correct speaker order – ideally, they will write their names on a whiteboard, a piece of paper, or in the chat in an online debate.

Don’t neglect basic information such as your name, the room number and so on – it may seem unnecessary to you, but if the tabulation room have to go back to check the judge ballot afterwards, it is vital that they can identify the adjudicator and room quickly and correctly.

Scoring range

It is absolutely crucial that you check the correct scoring range for the competition that you are participating in. This will usually be clarified in the adjudicators’ briefing at the start of the rounds, but if you are in any doubt, please check. Many e-ballots will not allow you to enter a score outside the approved scoring range, but of course when filling out paper judge ballots there are no such guardrails.

Quite apart from marking you out as suspect to any chief adjudicator or tab director, entering an invalid or wildly inappropriate score skews the speaker tab and may lead to deserving speakers losing out on speaker awards because you accidentally gave a 90 to someone else for a mediocre speech!

Comments and feedback

In some forms of debate, and some tournaments, it is expected that the debaters will get judge ballots back at the end of the competition, and they will look for written or typed comments on the ballot to give them some feedback on how they did. Generally speaking, written comments are less important in formats of debate which encourage extensive oral feedback immediately after the round, such as BP or World Schools debate, but may be expected in competitions where such feedback is limited, such as PF competitions or WIDPSC debate. Again, if in doubt, err on the side of giving more feedback – debaters always appreciate guidance for how to improve – but make sure it is helpful and constructive, not negative and critical.

Paper ballots vs E-ballots

Most of the advice in this article applies to both paper ballots and e-ballots, but it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. Paper ballots are sometimes easier for some people to fill out – and of course, they don’t require working WiFi to complete! On the other hand, they are easy to misplace or lose, and it takes longer for them to get to the tabulation room for inputting.

Familiarize yourself with the procedure for submitting your paper ballot, make sure you have given it to the relevant person before embarking on any verbal feedback – and we recommend taking a photo with your phone so that, in the worst case where a ballot goes missing, you can quickly retrieve the scores and resubmit them!

If you are using an e-ballot, conversely, it is a good idea to make sure that you have the names and scores written down somewhere – on your laptop, or in a notepad – so that if there is a software error and your ballot is lost, you can easily resubmit your results. This is uncommon, but it’s best to be prepared!

Some tournaments use a combination of both systems – e-ballots during the round and paper ballots completed and submitted as backup, “just in case”. Make sure you know what your duties are in the competition or event you are judging.


There we have some tips for how to use a debate judge ballot. In many ways this is the simplest but most vital function of any judge – so it’s a good idea to be on top of it!

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Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy