Oscar Votes 123

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Voting and the Oscars: Six Numbers You Need to Know

For its tenure, PricewaterhouseCoopers has successfully tabulated the results and delivered the winners for the Oscars without a single breach in the secrecy of the process.

There are only two people in the world who will know the Oscar Winners before the live show on February 28th. Meet Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan, both Partners at PwC and leaders of the Oscars Balloting team. They will know the Oscar winners a full 48 hours before the public announcements are made live on February 28th. As an extra failsafe, both partners will commit to memory the winners’ names and categories.

To count the final ballots and determine the winners, tabulators including Ruiz and Cullinan are sequestered into a secret room with the door locked behind them. The exact location of the room is known only to a few members of the PwC ballot team. Winners in most categories, including Best Actor and Best Actress, can win with a plurality, meaning the tabulators simply need to determine which nominee received the most votes. The biggest categories are often counted last, only two days before the show, so that the PwC partners will know the results for as short a time as possible before winners are announced. The ballots for all categories, including Best Picture, are hand counted.

Only the four categories for acting, Best Actress/Actor in a Lead Role and Best Actress/Actor in a supporting role, list the individual names of the nominees on the ballot. For all other categories, including those that single out specific filmmakers like Best Director, only the film’s name is listed. Bonus fact: The Best Picture contest has its own section on the Ballot that is easily detachable, so that it can be counted separately later. The rest of the categories are listed on one accordion-fold ballot.

Most categories, including Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role, only allow five nominees. Winners are chosen like political candidates in most state and national elections in the United States: by earning a simple plurality of the vote rather than needing a majority. This means the nominee with the most votes is the winner, even if that nominee earns as little as 21% of the vote in a fractured field. Although we'll never know, as the Academy does not release vote totals. Such a voting rule can contribute to upsets when a favorite might lose to a split vote, but the Academy wisely decided that use of ranked choice voting would better uphold majority rule in the most important vote of all in selection of Best Picture.

Ranked ballots have long been used to choose nominees for each category, but only recently has the process been extended to choosing actual winners. When the Academy expanded the Best Picture nomination category to 10 potential nominees, they also adopted ranked choice voting to make sure the film with the broadest support among voters wins. “With 10 nominees,” the Academy said when announcing the change, ranked choice voting “best allows the collective judgement of all voting members to be accurately represented.”

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why Ranked Choice Voting for Best PIcture - and Give it a Try!

Over the years, we've done many  good analyses at Oscar Votes 123 about why it makes so much sense for the Best Picture to be chosen with ranked choice voting (also called "instant runoff voting" and "preferential voting") when there are up to 10 nominees.

This year, wth the various Hollywood guilds divided in their choices this year -- with divided support for Spotlight, The Revenant, The Big Short, Room and more -- the use of ranked choice voting will clarify that the winner much have both  strong core support (the "passion vote") needed to make it past the early rounds of counting and enough mainstream support to defeat its toughest challengers when matched  against them one-on-one in the final round.

Want to try it yourself? Go to our Oscar voting page.

And you can read important pieces over the years like the following

And the winner is...ranked choice voting (2015)

In fractured field ranked choice voting elects the real best picture (2014)

AMPAS praises ranked choice voting (2011)

How ranked choice voting didn't help the King's Speech win (2011)

Ranked choice voting and the Oscars: How best picture is chosen (2011)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Oscars, Diversity and Ranked Choice Voting

All the prominent award systems in the entertainment industry are subject to complaints about winners, nominations, and perceived snubs. The Academy Awards are no different, with particular concerns this year that all 20 nominated actors and actresses are white for the second straight year, triggering the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and commitments from The Academy to diversify the membership that votes on nominations.

The Academy's full membership votes to nominate Best Picture, while other categories are only nominated by Academy members in that category – actors voting for actors, directors for directors and so on. With ranked choice voting, voters rank their choices, and in the five-nomination categories it requires roughly 17% of first choices to win. Any nominee securing more than this victory threshold has a share of each vote count for the second choice on the ballot, and after all such surplus votes are distributed, last-place candidates are eliminated, and their ballots added to the totals of their second choice. At the end of the count, nearly everyone helps nominate someone in their category. (As we’ve explained, Best Picture was changed a few years ago to a rather puzzling form of ranked choice voting that can result in the nomination of movies with a much smaller base of passionate support.)

This year’s nominees reflect diverse appreciation for performances from veterans and rising stars. In the Best Actress category, nominees include well-known previous winners (Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence), new rising stars (Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan) and veteran Charlotte Rampling. Rampling’s 45 Years is a low-budget film just being released to American audiences, but enough fellow actors appreciated her performance to elevate her over better-known actresses.

Best Director nominees went to a big budget blockbuster (George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road), last year’s winner (Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant), and the two best picture frontrunners (Adam McKay for The Big Short and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight), but also in a surprise to Lenny Abrahamson, the director of Room. Abrahamson almost certainly would lost in a winner-take-all nomination process, but had a passionate base of support that could earn him a nomination with ranked choice voting.


A 2012 analysis by the Los Angeles times, indicated The Academy members are overwhelmingly white (94%) and male (76%). Overall, since 2000 African Americans garnered 10 percent of acting nominations and 15 percent of the wins, despite under-representation of African Americans on screen (studies suggest about 9 percent of the characters onscreen have been black). Other racial minorities have less history of high-profile performances and nominations. Merle Oberon, nominated for Best Actress in 1935, is the only Asian woman nominated for the award. While African Americans have had a history of being nominated in the past two decades, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign challenges the lack of representation for people of color throughout the industry by raising concerns with the nominees of the last two years.

This year, the only person of color nominated for a major award is director Alejandro González Iñárritu who won the Oscar last year for Birdman. No movies made by, starring, or about African Americans received nominations for any of the major awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director), even Creed and Straight Outta Compton that were critics' and fan favorites.

There was more racial diversity in other categories. As explained in a revealing piece by Southern California Public Radio, voters in the animation category have far more women and people of color than many other categories, dating back to hiring practices by Walt Disney decades ago, and their nominees reflect it. In the animation category, women and people of color regularly are nominated and win including most recently Big Hero 6’s win last year and this year’s nominations for Inside Out and When Marnie Was There. The diversity in the animation category demonstrates how, when a portion of Hollywood itself is more diverse - both in who gets to work and who gets to vote - Oscar nominations will more regularly reflect that diversity, thanks to RCV.
Diverse Voices, a Diverse Electorate, and Diverse Winners

Raked choice voting (RCV) is in fact the most fair and representative voting method available to the Academy. When used to elect multiple candidates, RCV is great at representing a diversity of voices in a diverse voting population. We can look at other RCV elections to see it impact.

Cambridge, Minneapolis, the Bay Area, and countries such as Ireland and Australia all use forms of ranked choice voting for many of their elected bodies. Cambridge is uses the multi-winner system similar to the Academy’s system for nominations. After the 2013 elections, as explained by FairVote’s Andrew Douglas, the Cambridge City Council was the most representative it had ever been, with an African American, Arab American, Asian American, and a Latino American serving alongside five other colleagues who received support from a diverse (racial and political) array of Cambridge residents. The majority of voters have the power to elect a majority of seats, but minority voters of all kinds earn their fair share.

RCV and the Academy Going Forward

It’s encouraging that The Academy is focusing on increasing the diversity of its voting population, with others focusing rightly on diversity within the industry as a whole, including who gets to make movies, gets hired for technical work, and gets onscreen. The Academy’s reforms tackle its membership, governing bodies, and voting eligibility. Three new seats will be created on the Governing Board, and The Academy will launch “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity,” though the specifics of this effort remain unclear. In addition, some members of The Academy may have their voting rights revoked after ten years of inactivity. The Academy argues this will ensure active and diverse members will have a stronger voice.

As Viola Davis said during her Best Actress Emmy acceptance speech last year, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” If these reforms work as planned, women (and men) of color will hopefully be given greater opportunity to create great art and be recognized for it. Ranked choice voting works to increase representation. The Academy's continued use of fair voting ensures that all voters participate in a meaningful election to elect a candidate they prefer.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Fair Shot: The Academy Ranks Their Choices to Select Oscar Nominees

Today is a big day for movie fans as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announces the nominations for award categories from Best Picture to Best Sound Mixing. The nominations are packed with major blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road to lesser known critically acclaimed films like Room. You may recognize a couple of your favorites on the list. Some nominees may leave you asking how does the Academy choose which movies grab these coveted spots in each category?

The Academy is made up of over 6,000 voting members, including the most credentialed actors, writers, directors, and other professionals from across the industry. For decades, the Academy has used for nearly all nominations (including all major categories except Best Picture) the "multi-winner" form of ranked choice voting FairVote supports for legislative elections because it wants as many Academy voters as possible to have a hand in directly nominating one of their favorites in their category of expertise--actors voting for actors, film editors voting for editors, and so on.

The Academy ranks their choices

Academy members can rank as many as five choices on their ballot in order of preference, and their ballot counts until all five nomination slots are filled. For most of its history, Best Picture was nominated this way as well, but modified the process somewhat starting in 2011 which is why the number of nominees in that category may vary from 5 to 10, but the same principles of proportional representation are used. By ensuring that more Academy voters have their vote count toward “electing” a nominee, the Academy ensures that almost everyone will have a movie, actress/actor, director, etc, near the top of their rankings that is in the hunt for an award for a given category.

In a vote-for-one system Academy voters would be faced with tough considerations. For one, voters would not have the freedom they currently do to vote for more obscure options that they think are deserving of a nomination, for fear of wasting their one vote on a movie or actor that has little chance of being nominated. Instead, voters can indicate their sincere favorite to be nominated, while remaining confident that they will have a voice throughout the nominating process if their favorite doesn’t have enough support to win. The system also eliminates strategic considerations for voters, as surplus support for a candidate that has already been nominated is not wasted, and can help nominate other worthy candidates in a category.

A History Of Fair Voting

Fair voting empowers voters. Since 1941 Cambridge has elected its nine-member city council and six-member school committee in citywide ranked choice voting elections. Fair voting in Cambridge works to give voters a full range of choices and representation to political and racial minority groups.
Fair voting systems have been part of the Oscars nomination process from the start, as nominees have been selected using ranked ballots since the 1930s. Last year, like most years, blockbuster hits shared the Best Picture stage with arthouse films: The biographical war drama American Sniper was nominated alongside the intimate coming-of-age story Boyhood, with the experimental single-take Birdman eventually taking the top prize.

The Academy’s use of ranked ballots doesn’t stop with the nomination process--stay tuned as our “Oscar Votes 1, 2, 3” blog series analyzes the use of ranked choice voting to select the winner among this year’s eight nominees for Best Picture. With the nominees now released, be sure to participate in our ranked choice voting polls for Best Actress and Best Actor, and look for further analysis as the results come in.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Birdman Wins Best Picture

In the days leading up to Oscars night, there was no runaway front runner for Best Picture that emerged (as reported by FairVote’s blog). With eight deserving nominees to choose from, problems like vote splitting could have been a concern if the Academy was still using a plurality voting system to determine the Best Picture winner. But, thankfully, the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting has been used for this category since 2009. How did this impact results?

Prior to the ceremony, Walt Hickey of fivethirtyeight.com observed “the film that wins Sunday night might not have been everyone’s first choice, but it will have had the most fans across the Academy.” His observation was an apt one, as the results of our OPA Oscars poll declared “Boyhood” the winner and the Academy ultimately chose “Birdman” as the winner, both of which seemed to have the largest bases of support going into Oscars night.

Moreover, “Birdman” gained support even though its box office sales were low, demonstrating that ranked choice voting allows for votes that are based on the general support a movie garners rather than its ticket sales/box office appeal. As the New York Times stated: “Despite relatively meager domestic ticket sales of $37.8 million, ‘Birdman’ had been the favorite to win best picture, having swept the top prize at banquet after banquet leading up to the Oscars.”

Another Oscars season has come and gone, and ranked choice voting once again provided a Best Picture winner that had broad support from voters without compromising the intensity of the race. Visit FairVote’s ranked choice voting page to learn more about its application in political elections.