Should judges time rounds or may they rely on debaters’ cross-timing? At one time the community norm was unequivocal – judges had to time (and if necessary give debaters time signals). Debaters as a general rule didn’t time their own speeches. Today on many circuits timing practices are much more equivocal. Debaters are generally expected to time themselves and each other, though they often do so haphazardly. Does the judge have a responsibility to make sure time is kept correctly?
I tend to believe that judges should time rounds. It is a failsafe for when debaters’ timers fail or when debaters accidentally give themselves or their opponents too much or too little time. It is also a check on debaters stealing prep time, or using an unreasonable amount of time “off the clock” to transfer files or organize papers.
In many rounds, though, judges elect not to time and instead rely on the debaters “cross-timing” one another. For some reason this seems to be particularly prevalent in out-rounds. There are several possible arguments in favor of this approach. Many judges presume that debaters should be responsible for policing themselves, and that the appropriate checks on timing abuses are good faith and an opponent guarding her right to a fair round. Certainly not having to time makes judging easier, which may arguably improve the judging experience and improve the quality of decisions (i.e. judges can focus on writing on ballots or backflowing rather than watching the clock).
So, should judges time rounds or may they rely on debaters’ cross-timing?