Oscar Votes 123: Looking At Majority Voting Systems

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looking At Majority Voting Systems

Who will win the Academy Award for Best Picture? According to the new rules for the Oscars, a majority of Academy members will decide.

This year there are ten nominees for Best Picture – the rules were changed from the previous number of five. With this wider field, I can see how the ballot tabulation rules needed to be reconsidered. With the old plurality system, ten nominees meant the threshold to win would have been 10% +1. That means a film with little support among members could win the Oscar.

This morning’s award announcements give us an opportunity look at majority voting systems. One way to conduct this kind of election is through multiple ballots. If there’s no majority on the first count, the last place vote getter is dropped off the list and ballots with the remaining nine are given to voters. If there’s no majority on the second ballot, the last place vote getter is dropped off the list and new ballots with the eight remaining nominees are given to voters. This process would continue until a majority (50% +1) picks the Best Picture.

Multiple ballots work good in places like meetings, conventions -where people are together. But when ballots need to be mailed to voters, the logistics can be cumbersome. Washington State has a majority voting system that winnows candidates down to the top two vote getters. There’s a primary election followed by another Top-Two election at a later date.

With either of these systems, some voters, whose first choice was knocked out in a round of counting, have to then consider a second choice on a later ballot. To accommodate this dynamic, the Academy used a preferential ballot. Voters rank their choices on a single ballot. For example, you put “Avatar” as your first choice and “The Hurt Locker” as second, “District Nine” as third and so on down the ballot. This way, Academy members are mailed a single ballot. And tabulation is basically the same; if there’s a majority on first count, the election is over. If not, the last place vote getter is dropped and that nominee's voters second, third and subsequent choices are distributed to the films remaining in the counting. This process continues until the majority threshold is met.

With expanding the number of nominees for an Oscar, the Academy needed to look at voting methods. Ranked ballots didn't create all the choices - it only accommodates them. And by giving members choices by preference, a voter can feel invested in more films. It's like. "Heck, my first choice lost but I did rank the winner high on my ballot so I'm happy."

Krist Novoselic serves as Chair of FairVote Board of Directors.

2 comments:

  1. That would be great, except IRV doesn't ensure a real majority. That would be the majority of all ballots, not just the ones that made it to the final round. If I wanted to, I could redefine majority to be 'majority of the votes cast for one of the top two', and then plurality would be a majority system. You ignore everyone who truncated their ballots by doing that.

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  2. In response to this comment, with IRV you have the option to require voters to rank all choices, as is done in Australian elections. That you way you will ensure that the winner in the last round has a majority of votes that were cast in the first round.

    Australian also has mandatory voting, as it turns out. But just as Americans don't require everyone to vote, we are unlikely to want to require everyone to rank all their choices, even the ones they don't like. That doesn't change the fact that the winner in the last round __is__ the majority choice of people who had a preference among the strongest candidates (or movies, in this case.)

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