No Award is a real option with real consequences. If No Award wins the election, no Hugo Award is presented in that category. It's not the pretend "None of these Candidates" option that some US states like Nevada have, where the second-place finisher wins.
No Award is not theoretical. The last time it won was the 1977 Hugo Awards, where there was no Hugo Award presented for Best Dramatic Presentation.
How should I mark my ballot if I don't like any of the candidates at all? Well, if you dislike them all equally, just put a 1 by No Award and leave the rest of your ballot in that category blank.
I like some of the candidates, but not all of them and don't want any of the others to win. How should I vote? Rank the candidates that you do want to win in preference order, then No Award. If you dislike all of the remaining candidates equally, leave them all off your ballot.
What happens when I rank things below No Award? This is where people seem to get the most confused. In the initial counting of ballots, we count No Award like any other candidate. That means it can be eliminated like any other candidate. (Most years, it drops off first, as it gets fewer votes than any of the other candidates.) As with the item above, when you've ranked every candidate you liked and reach the point where you'd rather have nothing win than what's left, mark No Award. Then comes the tricky part:
- If you dislike all of the remaining candidates equally, leave them all off your ballot. You've just voted against all of them identically. Anything you leave off your ballot is (in effect) tied for last place.
- If there are candidates that you nominally prefer over others below No Award, rank them in the order you prefer them. This is saying that "I'd rather X, Y, and Z not win at all, but if one of them must win, I'd prefer X over Y over Z." You've still voted against all of them, but you've said that one of them winning is slightly less obnoxious than the others.
ETA: Unranked Choices after No Award if you ranked anything after no award: Because there is a person in the comments below who won't stop nagging about this, I add one other caveat: If you vote No Award in any place, and then rank some works, and then leave other works off your ballot entirely, you're ranking the ones you did choose (even behind No Award) ahead of the works you left off the ballot. Any work you ranked might collect your vote to come in ahead of the works you left unranked, even to the point of being declared the Preliminary Winner. This means that if you vote No Award, you no longer have a meaningful "No opinion" option. If you want to keep it simple, either leave everything blank after No Award or rank every possible choice after No Award.
Ranking any choice below No Award means you've still voted against it winning. This is something that people seem to have a difficult time understanding, but there are two reasons for it:
- In the preliminary vote counting, your vote for No Award counts until it's eliminated. Your vote for further preferences never count until No Award is eliminated.
- After the preliminary winner is determined (assuming it's not No Award), your vote for No Award gets a "second chance" to knock out the winner in a head-to-head showdown.
The No Award Showdown gives No Award two chances to win. After the regular instant-runoff voting result returns a Preliminary Winner (other than No Award), there is one more test, where we count only those ballots where the PW is marked or NA is marked (or both, of course). We now count the ballots again, ignoring anything except the PW or NA. This amounts to a straight head-to-head vote on the question, "Shall we elect the Preliminary Winner as the Hugo Award winner?" We examine each ballot and ask these questions:
- If the Preliminary Winner ranks higher than No Award (or the PW is ranked and NA isn't mentioned), count this as a YES vote for the Preliminary Winner.
- If No Award ranks higher than the Preliminary Winner (or NA is ranked and the PW isn't mentioned), count this as a NO vote against the Preliminary Winner.
- If neither the Preliminary Winner nor No Award is listed, this is a blank ballot and doesn't count at all.
Again, No Award gets multiple chances to knock out works on the ballot. However, in fairness, I want to point out that no work has ever been eliminated on a No Award Showdown.
- If you dislike everything on the ballot equally, vote No Award 1 and leave the rest blank.
- If you like some and dislike everything else equally, rank your favorites in preference order, then No Award, then leave the rest blank.
- If you like some candidates, dislike the others, but want to influence the relative placement of the works you dislike, then mark the candidates you like, then No Award, then the ones you dislike.
I really hope this helps. I see so much nonsense posted about No Award and people trying to tease out some sort of Hidden Meaning from the rules, when in fact WSFS doesn't hide elephants in mouseholes.
If you still have questions, post them here and I'll try to answer them.