The Lafayette Debates

February 15-16, 2020

Bally’s Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV

Judge Handbook 

 Thank you for judging at the Lafayette Debates on this important topic!  We greatly appreciate your willingness to share your expertise and experience with our debaters. 

This document provides an overview of your role as a judge.  Section 1 summarizes your role as a judge.  Section 2 explains the topic for the debates. Section 3 provides guidance on judging a college debate.  Section 4 explains how to complete your ballot.


Each round will last about an hour and will involve two competing teams three debaters each.  The debaters will be responsible for timing and attending to the order of their speeches and/or there will be a timekeeper in each round. Your only responsibility during the round is to listen with an open mind and take notes on the debate.

You will be judging alongside a debate coach. After the round a college debate coach will lead your panel in discussing the debate and attempting to reach consensus as to which team did the better debating. Once a decision is reached and announced to the teams, you will have an opportunity to provide feedback to the debaters. In addition, the debate coach will prepare a written ballot based on your discussions. (You will have an opportunity to review and approve the written ballot before publication.)  

Topic & Topic Statement



Section III. Judging at the Lafayette Debates

The Lafayette Debates provide college debaters a rare opportunity to test their skills debating for judges from both inside and outside of the college debate community, including distinguished professionals and topic experts. Please do not worry if you do not have experience judging college debate rounds. The most important thing to remember when judging a debate is that if a team convinces you they have won the round!

The primary question you should ask yourself as a judge is which team has done the better debating on the question raised by the tournament topic.  First and foremost, this question asks which team has been more effective in meeting their basic burdens of advocacy and rejoinder.  This means “constructing” complete and persuasive arguments supported by logic and evidence, as well as directly responding to the key arguments constructed by their opponents. Secondarily, judges should consider factors such as public speaking skills, organization, and command of the subject matter. 

There is no single formula for determining which team did the best debating. In short, you are attempting to assess which team presented the most powerful advocacy when considering all of the many factors that advocacy entails.

Although judging is subjective, it is important that you do not allow personal bias or beliefs about the issues being debated to influence whom you choose as winner.  Indeed, you may conclude that a team has been more powerful in making its case even if you do not personally agree with the team’s arguments.

Judges with debate backgrounds are asked to judge preliminary rounds in a manner they believe best prepares students to orally publish their topic scholarship to the panels of stakeholders drawn from outside of the college debate community for Sunday's championship rounds. 

Topic Interpretation

Although it is discouraged and should be disfavored by judges, debaters will sometimes attempt to interpret topics in a manner that “tilts” the playing field to their advantage.  A topic statement has been provided to all judges and all teams to clarify the topic’s intended meaning. As a judge, you should attempt to interpret the burden the topic places on the Affirmative and Negative teams in a manner consistent with the topic’s plain language and the context provided by the topic statement.  When in doubt as to the plain meaning of the topic, you should adopt a “centrist” interpretation of the topic that allows both teams a fair chance to engage the core questions raised by the topic as described in the topic statement.

Cross Examination

Cross examination is an essential element of the debate format chosen for this weekend’s competition. It is also an element that requires debaters to cooperate in good faith with their opponents to some extent, which may be a complicated proposition in a competitive debate.

Cross examination can be an invaluable tool for moving debates “forward” by clarifying areas of agreement, isolating areas of dispute, and allowing rigorous examination of opposing arguments. Cross examinations may be far less productive, however, if debaters waste cross examination time and avoid having their arguments clarified and scrutinized by answering questions that haven’t been asked, filibustering, and otherwise failing to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible.  In such cases, debates may even become hostile as cross examiners may be forced to talk over their opponent to prevent their opponent from dominating the cross examination period.

In a court of law, judges will often instruct hostile witnesses (i.e. witnesses who are bias or adverse to the cross examiner) to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible so as to avoid wasted time and to allow cross examiners to clarify the facts and arguments relevant to the judge’s or jury’s decision.

Similarly when determining the winning team and assigning speaker points judges should favor debaters who respond directly and succinctly to the extent possible and disfavor debaters who consistently fail to do so.

“To the extent possible” is an essential qualifier to this requirement. Debaters should be allowed reasonable time to answer “open” questions or any other questions that cannot be answered in a straightforward manner. 

Equity Statement

While a judge may not consciously privilege the arguments or positions of particular groups of people over others, studies have shown that decisions nevertheless may be influenced by societal biases or prejudices in regards to, inter alia, race and gender. Daniel Kelley and Erica Roedder (2008) have found implicit bias in a number of settings analogous to debate including job hiring practices, grading, and sports officiating. Deborah Tannen (1998) has shown that in the field of competitive argument men are sometimes presumed to be more reasonable and less emotional and that these presumptions may lead a judge to implicitly give more weight to a man’s argument than a woman’s. We therefore ask each judge to consider their implicit biases in evaluating participants’ arguments and performance before making their decision.

III. Filling Out Your Ballot 

The below instructions are solely for Saturday judges.  If you are judging on Sunday, the debate coach guiding your panel will fill out the ballot for you.

If you are judging on Saturday, you will receive a ballot upon checking in with the tabulation table. The names of the competing schools will be provided on the ballot.  Before the round begins, please ask the debaters to write their names on the ballots in the provided blanks corresponding to their speaker order. The ballot will identify the Affirmative team in the round as “Aff.”  The Negative team will be identified as “Neg.

Selecting the Winning Team

To cast your ballot for the winning team, CIRCLE the name of the winning school AND fill in the blank spot on the ballot. 

Remember, the Affirmative team speaks first. If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask the debaters to confirm which team is affirmative and which is negative.

Assigning Individual Speaker Points (Saturday Judges Only)

If you are judging in Rounds 1-4, you will also be asked to rank each individual speaker and provide each individual debater with an individual grade referred to on the ballot as “speaker points.”

You may not assign ties when assigning speaker points.

To assign speaker points, write each debater’s grade in the blank column beside their name.  (The space labeled, “Speaker Points.”). 

The highest permissible grade is 100.  The lower permissible grade is 90.

When assigning speaker points, you should consider a debater’s overall individual performance.  Debaters should demonstrate strong:

command of the subject matter,

analytical and reasoning skills,

public speaking and persuasion skills,

creativity and spontaneity,

ability and willingness to engage their opponents’ arguments, and

good faith engagement in cross examination (i.e., they provided direct answers to direct questions to the extent possible). 

Although some debaters will warrant such grades, judges should be “reluctant” to assign grades of 97 or higher; i.e., you should be highly impressed to consider a grade of 97 or higher.

100 Debaters should only receive a grade of 100 if their performance is as close to perfect in all of the above categories as one can expect from a university student.

99 Only one or two immaterial errors were the exceptions to an otherwise remarkable performance in all of the above categories.

98 Only one or two errors/imperfections of any substance were the exceptions to an otherwise remarkable performance in all of the above categories.

97 A small number of imperfections/errors of substance but overall a remarkable performance in close to all of the above categories with limited room for material improvement.

96 A very strong performance overall but enough imperfections/errors of substance that the performance could be materially improved in at least one significant categories or several less significant areas.

95A very good performance overall but enough imperfections/errors of substance that the performance could be materially improved in more than one significant area.

94 Very good performance overall but at least some room for improvement most of the categories listed above.

93 Good but not great in all or close to all of the categories listed above.

92 Above average in most of the categories listed above.

91 Average and/or noticeable room for material improvement in most categories listed above.

90 Unexceptional in all categories listed above or drastic improvement needed in more than one category listed above.

Thank you again for the generous commitment of your time to this program and the wonderful students involved in it.