Oscar Votes 123: Don't Panic! The IRV System for Best Pic Isn't So Tough to Get

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Don't Panic! The IRV System for Best Pic Isn't So Tough to Get

Timothy Gray of Variety tries his darndest to explain the new IRV system for the Best Picture award, and he seems a little overwhelmed. He shouldn't, of course, because it's not nearly as complicated as he thinks. He writes:
. . . for best pic, there are 10 noms. So the preferential system will be used . . . And, you may ask, in a world that’s already complicated, why are they making things more difficult? Why not just go with the first-place vote? Excellent question. Here are the reasons: By using the preferential system here, [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] and the Acad avoid the possibility of a film winning with only 11% of the votes and avoid the possibility of a tie.

How is this so? Sorry, I’m not going to explain it. It’s too complicated and you’re asking too many questions. Trust me, it’s true.
It's not complicated at all! A film could win with 11% of the vote because there are 10 nominees, and it's possible that all 10 could fare very roughly the same, splitting the vote essentially evenly. In that scenario ( which isn't as unlikely as you might think, particularly if there's a field of similarly-strong contenders) the winner would be the one that snuck past the 10% mark, even if just barely. That's hardly grounds to consider any film a consensus choice of the Academy, so in that light, using IRV makes perfect sense. And this is also why it makes so much sense to use IRV with multi-candidate fields in political elections.

But Gray gets it, and you can see, it's not so tough to grasp after all:
OK, so the PWC pros form 10 piles for best pic, one for each film. They go through the first-place choices. And the film with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated. Then they take the nine remaining films, and go through the second-place choices. Again, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated. In all, they will do eight rounds of this.
At the end, the winning film will have 50% of the votes plus one.
Correct! That wasn't so bad, was it?

For a quick, handy guide to IRV, just click here.

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