With ballots soon to be returned to determine the winners of the Oscars at the Academy Awards, members of the Academy may have questions about the instant runoff voting system used to select the winner of the Best Picture award. Also known as "preferential voting" in Australia, "the alternative vote" in the United Kingdom and "ranked choice voting" in some American cities, instant runoff voting has been used in the Best Picture category since 2009.
Not everything Oscar analysts are saying about the system is accurate, however. Here are four key points for Academy voters to keep in mind when filling out a ranked choice ballot for Best Picture.
1. To vote, you simply rank the nominated movies in order of preference, indicating your first choice, second choice and so on. Voting is literally as easy as “1, 2, 3.’ Oscar ballots are counted according to a straightforward counting procedure that allows voters’ backup choices to be taken into account if their first choice has been defeated. To read about the details of the process, see our earlier post.
2. Voters should rank as their first choice the movie they most want to win and their second choice as their sincere next favorite. A voter should vote sincerely, starting with your first choice, onto your second choice and so on until you are indifferent about the remaining choices. Any effort to help your favorite movie by changing your order of preference is foolhardy and nearly certain to backfire.
3. Rank as many movies as you can without concern about hurting your first choice. A voter’s ballot is only counted for one movie at a time and your second choice will never count against the chances of your first choice. That’s because your vote will only count for your second-choice film if your first-choice film is eliminated from contention. Suppose you really want to see your top choice to win, but its top competitor is your sincere second choice. Ranking that competing movie as your actual second choice will not have any effect on the chances of your first choice winning – rather, it’s only potential impact is to help that second choice defeat the remaining movies.
4. Don't rank the same movie more than once. Ranking a movie multiple times (e.g. as 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice) will not help that candidate’s chances of winning. Because your backup choices only come into play once your first choice has been eliminated, repeated rankings of a movie do nothing to help that movie.
Note: As discussed in this earlier post, there are two different forms of “preferential voting” used by the Academy. The other variation used to select nominations is called choice voting. It is a form of proportional representation designed to nominate potential Oscar winners who reflect the strong preferences of as many Academy voters as possible.