Judges, the "speakers" of debate rounds, serve three functions:

1. Decide which team won the round.

2. Maintain an orderly and fair debate.

3. Assign speaker points and ranks to each debater along with comments.

Good judging can be more difficult than good debating, but debate relies on the integrity and skill of the judges to make the right decisions. Many people have their own style of judging or particular debate tactics they admire in rounds. Each judge, however, should have only one goal: to create a level playing field for the debaters. Debaters work very hard and give up a lot of their time to debate. They deserve the best efforts of the judges.

How to Decide Who Won

This may be the simplest duty of the judge, but it is also the most important. The question each judge should ask himself or herself is: Who did the better debating in this round?

That question leads to obvious ambiguities about the phrase "better debating." The team which presented a better argument for its side of the debate did the better debating. Better arguments can be presented with better style or more logically appealing, but the substance of the arguments should outweigh purely superficial style. A team which looked good did not necessarily win. Please note, that the Judge does not have to agree with the side which did the better debating, the judge merely has to recognize that their arguments were superior. If someone decides to propose the case "Abortion is immoral," the judge may dislike that debater. The judge may know of twenty reasons why abortion is not immoral. But the judge must decide if the Government's arguments for the case statement outweigh the Opposition's arguments that abortion is not immoral. The judge should adopt a convention known as tabula rasa, the blank slate. A blank slate perspective means that the judge has no preconceived notions about the round and brings no knowledge or arguments to the round. The Government does not lose because the judge can beat their case. The Opposition does not lose because they did not beat the case as well as the judge could have or in the same way the judge would. The only time the judge should use any outside knowledge would be when one side asserts bald-faced lies or when one side makes arguments which are so illogical that no ordinary person would believe them. Otherwise, the debaters must tell the judge why something does not make sense or why one argument outweighs another argument. The judge makes their decision about who won and who lost based on whether the arguments made in favor of the case statement outweighed the arguments against the case statement. The only exception to this standard comes into effect when one side runs a tight case or a specific knowledge case. If that happens, and the opposition argues persuasively that the case is tight or specific knowledge, then the judge must do one of two things. First, if the debaters can agree on a redefinition of the case, then judge the debate as if that were the case statement. Second, if they do not agree, then the judge must consider the circumstances of each team in terms of how that allowed them to do "better debating." For example, the case "Iran should not imprison people for insulting Islam" would be a tight case. Executing people for that reason does not make sense to the average American college student. If the Opposition got up and said "we will debate the case 'You are Iran; you should not imprison people for insulting Islam,'" and the Government accepted that statement, then the judge should use that case statement to determine the round. If the Government refused that redefinition and then made arguments about religious freedom, the judge should consider that these arguments are often easy to make and do not represent impressive debating. The arguments Opposition would be able to muster about collective culture determining law and justice being relative to the society around it would be far more difficult to make, and the Opposition would receive a vast amount of credit for making even small arguments. The judge should allocate more credit for arguments to the side with the weaker position in the round. Three things should be noted here:

1. If the Opposition calls the case tight and the case is not tight, the Opposition should almost certainly lose the round. Calling cases tight when they are not is a disreputable practice, which should be heavily discouraged. Some LOs will call parts of a case tight and say that they will only argue certain elements of the case. This can be fine and the case can be decided on those limited elements. If the government insists that the whole case is not tight, then the judge must decide how to decide the round based on the strength of the arguments presented both about the case and about tightness.

2. Both sides have to make arguments as to why a case is tight or specific knowledge or why it is not. Opposition cannot merely assert that "This case is tight." Nor should a judge decide that a case is tight because the judge cannot think of an opposition. Tightness is an argument that must be proved like any other argument. The government must also argue to refute the claim of tightness. Usually the Government does this by presenting points that the Opposition could have made against the case statement. These arguments may be made during MG or PMR.

3. The reverse situation about obvious or easy to make arguments is not necessarily true. If Government runs a case that can be beaten with two easy and obvious arguments, the judge should not penalize Opposition for using these arguments. Remember that the Opposition did not get to chose the side it was on and so can make any type of argument against the case statement. Judges should, however, give credit to Government teams that run open cases (cases for which the opposition arguments are strong). Even if these cases lose, they are generally rewarded with higher speaker points than a losing team with a tight case. The judge must be careful not to dismiss a case which has powerful arguments against it. Good debaters may make even more powerful arguments for the case.

Notice that only arguments about the case statement are relevant. Many debaters make arguments which might be true and might have to do with the general topic of the debate, but which do not deal with the case statement. These arguments will not win a round. Whether arguments support the case statement can be argued during the round, so the judge must decide what issues are relevant to the case statement.

Examine the case "You are the United Sates; do not drop an atomic bomb on Japan in 1945." The Government decides to argue that conventional weapons could have defeated the Japanese army. They prove that Japan could have been defeated using a land invasion and a siege of the main islands. The fact that Japan could have been defeated without the atomic bomb does not necessarily imply that the bomb should not be dropped, however. The opposition could argue that 1) aland invasion would cost many more lives and 2) dropping the bomb served other purposes, i.e., intimidating the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that the Government proved its argument, the Opposition would win the debate. Now assume that the Government also proved that dropping the bomb is only moral if the bomb would be the only way to win the war. Now the government has proven that its first argument about how to win the war in a different way actually proves the case statement. Dropping the bomb is immoral unless it is necessary. The bomb is not necessary to win. Therefore, dropping the bomb would be immoral. That would be a compelling reason to vote for the Government, even if the Opposition told the judge about the cost of the land invasion and the benefits of demonstrating the power of the bomb to the Soviets. But now suppose that the Opposition argues that 1) the extra lives the invasion would cost make the invasion immoral, so both sides are immoral and 2) the United States did not care about acting morally toward the Japanese during WWII. The judge should then reason: "It is true that the United States did not care about morality regarding the Japanese. Even though I know that the Japanese are people and deserve to be treated with the same respect as other people, the United States did not believe that at the time. Besides, both the invasion and the bomb are immoral, so I have to vote with the final issue which would be the benefits of intimidating the Soviets while saving American lives." The judge would vote for Opposition. The same kind of back on forth could go on at many different levels regarding many different arguments. The judge should then weigh all of these arguments in the same way that the above example shows. The judge can use some discretion in terms of prioritizing the arguments they consider. If a debate were about the death penalty, the side which wins the moral arguments would beat the side which wins the cost arguments unless one team demonstrated that cost should trump morality in this case. The judge can assume that certain arguments are more or less important, but the judge should listen to arguments debaters make about why one type of argument should be more improtant than another. All arguments are not created equal, but the judge should let the debaters debate over which arguments should factor more heavily in the decision.

How to Maintain a Fair and Orderly Debate

Judges are in control of the debate round. The judge calls the various speakers to speak and rules upon all points of order or personal privilege. Judges are not in rounds to please debaters; they are there to make the right decision. So be familiar with the rules, including the rules about tight cases or new points in rebuttal. A fair round requires a judge who understands the rules and can rule intelligently on them.

The most important way that judges maintain impartiality is to keep a careful record or flow of the entire round on paper, including the rebuttal speeches. After the round, the judge can look back over the arguments that were presented in the round and evaluate them systematically. "Sorry, I forgot about that argument" will not make debaters happy.

Judges should also make an effort to disclose things about their judging style as early as possible. "I do not like economics arguments" or "I do not understand philosophy" are poor styles of judging. If the judge really hates these types of arguments, then say something to both teams before the Government team prepares its case. Still try to understand and judge the arguments that you do not like as accurately as possible. Almost all judges listen to every type of argument. Some other things which judges should note about themselves include how they feel about the time limits, any preference they have for the number of points of information and anything that a debater could easily control that particularly annoys the judge, for example, talking among partners or the volume of someones speech. No debater should find out after the round that a judge does not give high speaker points to people who talk softly. It is fair to assume the debaters should speak loudly enough to be heard and should make good arguments, but do not assume that they know all about the judges personal preferences. Moreover, a judge's personal preferences about debating style are never a reason to vote for one side or the other and should never affect speaker points. Judges should try to be as objective as they can be, but a helpful warning to debaters in advance cannot hurt.

How to Assign Points, Ranks, and Comments

After deciding who won the debate round, the judge must assign each debater a number of speaker points and allocate the four ranks in the round. Speaker points usually range from 21 to 28 and ranks always one to four. Each rank must be assigned, so that one debater gets one, one debater gets two, one debater gets three and one debater gets four. The judge should follow three rules:

1. The team which won the round should have ranks lower or equal to the team which lost the round.

2. The team which won the round should have speaker points higher or equal to the team which lost the round.

3. Debaters with lower ranks should have higher speaker points, so that no one has more speaker points than a debater with lower ranks.

An example of these rules follows: The judge decides that the Government has won the debate and assigns the following points and ranks:
PM 27 Speaker Points 26 Speaker Points LO
1 Rank 2 Rank
MG 22 Speaker Points 25 Speaker Points MO
3 Rank 4 Rank

Rule 1

Government won and it has four total ranks which is lower than the six total ranks of the Opposition.

Rule 2

Government has a total of 49 points and Opposition has 51. This situation is called a "low-point win." Most tournaments do not allow this, so the judge must change the speaker point totals. The judge bumps the MG up to 23 and the MO down to 24. Now both teams have 50. The points are equal, so rule 2 is satisfied.

Rule 3

The PM has the highest points, so the PM must have the lowest rank, one. The LO has points higher than either member, so the LO has two ranks. The MG has lower ranks than the MO despite having lower speaker points. The judge could either add a speaker point to the MG, which would tie the two debaters at 24 and allow the judge to give either debater better ranks, or the judge could switch the three and the four. Considering the fact that the judge initially felt that the MG was far below the other debaters with speaker points of 22, the judge decides to switch the ranks and give the MO three ranks. Now the judge has to double-check the new scores with each of the three rules. Ranks are even now at five per team, but that does not create a problem. Speaker points reflect the victory. Speaker points do not conflict with ranks.

The final scores appear below:
PM 27 Speaker Points 26 Speaker Points LO
1 Rank 2 Rank
MG 23 Speaker Points 24 Speaker Points MO
4 Rank 3 Rank

Some tournament may insist that a tie goes to the Opposition. The rationale behind this rule is that the Government must prove its side, so a neutral result means that the Government has not proven anything. If this rule is in effect, it only applies to debates which are tied on both ranks and speaker points. If both sides have the same ranks, but the Government has a single more point, the Government wins.

After the judge has assigned points and ranks, the judge should return the top portion of their ballot, the white sheet, to the tab room. This will allow the tournament to proceed smoothly and make comments to debaters more legible. The most important comment a judge should make is called a RFD, or reason for decision. The RFD tells the debaters which arguments proved compelling and explains the rational behind the judge's decision to vote for Government or Opposition. After explaining the RFD, the judge can write comments about individual debaters. Judges should try to balance compliments with criticism and support debaters who may be new or less experienced.