dichroic was talking about the NPR poll, and one of her questions was whether she had read enough of the nominees to vote in it. So I thought I would give mrissa's rules for nominating and voting on awards. Simple, easy, straightforward! Good. Also very difficult timing to mistake for talking about a particular person with the Hugos or something political like that. (Sometimes I feel like I have to wait to talk about peripheral stuff so that it doesn't seem like I am saying, "AND I MEAN YOU, ETHEL.")
1. Are you in the category of person permitted to nominate? If so, stop worrying. You bought your WorldCon membership, you paid your SFWA dues, you clicked over to the website hosting the random NPR internet poll, whatever. You read the little introductory text that said it was a poll for women, or for Hispanic-Americans, or for alumni of your alma mater, and verified that you were one of those. Bully. Onwards. If they meant, "Persons who have read at least twenty of these books," or, "Persons with graduate degrees in this field," they would have said so. Do they say they mean you? Then they mean you. If they say "SFF readers" and you sometimes read SFF, that's you. Even if you read more mysteries. Even if you used to read more than you do now. Do you read the stuff? Congratulations, they mean you, excelsior.
2. Read what you would ordinarily read. They're asking you, not some hypothetical person whose tastes are more elevated/more popular/in some other way not yours.
2a. If this award is important to you, maybe write stuff down if you're reading it and like it, because people forget what short fiction they liked and wind up casting about for famous names. If you know you're going to be nominating for an award that's important to you, keep some record of what you liked at the time you read it. The nominee whose name makes everybody go, "Who?" will thank you.
2b. Go ahead and nominate yourself. Go ahead and nominate your friends. But only do this if you actually read and liked your friends' stuff, and only if you actually think the work you or they did is among the best work in its category for its nominating period. You work long enough in this field and everybody will be your friend, the friend of your friend, the new person, or that one person you totally can't stand (although some of the friends of your friends will also be that one person you totally can't stand); you are not obliged to limit your nominations either for or against people you know personally. Even people you are personally.
3. Pay attention to what your smart/interesting friends say on the subject and maybe read a few extra things that sound like they might be relevant if you're in a small nominating pool and you feel the award is important.
4. Only nominate things you have actually read and actually like. If that means that you only have two novella nominations, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Apparently you don't like novellas that much this year. If you only read three novellas and one of them sucked, do not nominate the third novella. If you totally meant to get around to a third novella and it's by a famous author who has won previous awards, do not nominate the third novella. If you totally meant to get around to a third novella and it's by an author who's a total mensch who has done great things for your community, do not nominate the third novella. Read what it says on the label. Does it say "best novella"? Then nominate what you think is the best novella, not novella by most community-minded author, not novella that you expect will be awesome when you have time to read it, no. None of that. What you have read and liked. This is not hard.
Do not waste your time trying to guess what other people like. Eyes on your own paper, kids. If the other people want to express their tastes, they can buy their WorldCon membership or pay their SFWA dues or click over to the random website or whatever. Other people's tastes belong in the Land of Not Your Problem.
You've been given a slate of choices. Read what you can. Vote on what you like. Remember the Land of Not Your Problem? Remember the not worrying? All that stuff applies here.
I am of the opinion that if you try to read something and cannot make yourself do it, or if you find that time is limited and you just did not get to something, that is data about your tastes and that thing. You may be missing something that you will love, but if a group wants to give an award for the best book of 2001, now that the nominating/voting pool has had ten years to read the books of 2001 and think about them, they can. In most of the cases you're voting in, they haven't. Vote on the slate you're given. Don't vote on the reputation of the author or the reputation of the book; vote just on what you've read. And then stop.
See? Not hard.