Oscar Votes 123: 2015

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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing is believing, new video explaining how The Academy nominates and selects winners

Watch this video, created by CNN, that explains how The Academy nominates films for every category and a description of how ranked choice voting is used to determine what film wins Best Picture.
Check it out! http://www.fox28.com/story/28142044/2015/02/18/academy-awards-how-voting-works

Once you understand how The Academy votes for best picture, give it a try yourself at our Best Picture Poll http://2015-01-21.opavote.appspot.com/vote/6397844772618240

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LA Times Clunker: Page 1 Story Fails in Explaining Ranked Choice Voting for Best Picture

As voting method nerds who appreciate the values of ranked choice voting (RCV) elections, we at FairVote got a kick out of the Los Angeles Times running a front-page story today on the  RCV system (also called "preferential voting" and "instant runoff voting) that is used to elect the Academy Award for Best Picture and also for nearly all Oscar nominations.

The story comes with some nifty graphics that get the story right -- be sure to check them out.

Unfortunately, the news story itself is a big disappointment. Reporter Glenn Whipp gets key details wrong -- including, most disturbingly, in his implicit advice about how a voter allegedly might try to game the vote.

First, Whipp fails to mention that ranked choice voting is nothing new for Academy of Motion Picture voters. In fact, Best Picture nominees have been selected by ranked choice voting ballot since the 1930s, as has nearly every other category (acting categories, director and many more). We've explained how the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting works for nominations before. As a result, there is not a single Academy voter alive who has not been asked to cast a ranked choice voting ballot when nominating movies every year since they've became eligible to vote.

That's part of a general oversight to suggest that ranked choice voting is particularly novel. In fact, it's used to elect the parliament of Australia, president of Ireland, mayor of London and city leaders of at least ten American cities, including Minneapolis (MN), St. Paul (MN), Oakland (CA) and San Francisco (CA). It's even more commonly used in non-governmental elections. Robert's Rules of Order explains it as the best way to choose  leaders when needing to vote by mail, and many major private associations and more than 50 American colleges and universities use it to pick leaders. Other awards using include the Producers Guild of America and the Hugo Awards for science fiction.

Second, Whipp tried to be provocative with his opening, writing: "The Oscar winner for best picture Sunday night probably won't be the movie that the majority of voters put atop their ballots."


If you understand "majority of ballots" to mean having more than half the votes, then Whipp is absolutely wrong. As soon as a movie has the votes of more than half of voters, that movie has won. Period.

If Whipp actually meant "having the most first choice rankings," he's correct that this does not guarantee a victory. But he's wrong to suggest that leading in first choices is somehow a disadvantage. Having the most first choices actually does help you win. As an example, San Francisco has used ranked choice voting to elect 18 city offices, including mayor, since 2004. Of the 51 administered elections that used ranked choice voting, 30 were won on the first count. Of the 21 others, 19 were won by the candidates who led after the first count. Only two were "comeback victories."

Of course a key value of ranked choice voting is to ensure that the leader in first choices isn't a polarizing choice that could win only because of a divided majority vote. Ranked choice voting avoids the controversy experienced last week when Beck defeated Beyonce for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Vox has a piece explaining that Beck may well have won only because he was the only nominee with a rock album, thereby benefiting from a split vote.

Most irritatingly, Whipp gives voters bad advice about how to vote, He writes "Some academy members, particularly those with a vested interest in the outcome, know enough to rank their own movie first and their closest competitor's last."


That's in fact not smart advice at all. In fact, long-time savvy entertainment writer Steve Pond took on that myth with a hard-hitting piece in 2011 called Oscars Best Picture Ballot: Don’t Believe the Schmucks. Pond observes ""I went to a party over the weekend, and heard a producer who'd gotten a Best Picture nomination telling people, "It's a weighted ballot. You need to vote for [my movie] number one, and [our biggest competitor] number 10." He's wrong. It's not a weighted ballot. And his strategy would not do a damn thing to help his movie."

Unfortunately, Whipp just elevated the "schmuck" analysis to page one of the Los Angeles Times.

The fact is that with the ranked choice voting ballot for Best Picture, every voter has one and only one vote, and their vote never counts for more than one movie at a time. It's a series of "instant runoffs", with the last-place film eliminated after each round, and ballots cast for that movie then added to the totals of the next ranked choice on each ballot.

So yes, voters should rank movies in order of choice, as this gives their vote a backup. That backup will count only if your first choice has lost. That's why ranking your top competitor last does nothing to help your 1st choice. Your ballot will count for your first choice and ONLY for your first choice unless at some point during the count it ends up in last place and is eliminated from contention.

There's no way to "game" the vote with an insincere ballot. Anyone trying to do so is just hurting themselves -- and their favorite movies.

So Academy voters, rank your choices in order of preference, just as you can with our demonstration election with this year's nominees. And let's get out the popcorn and enjoy Oscar night on Sunday!

Campaign Season for Best Picture Is In Full Swing...

We’re in the final stretch!

Oscar Week is upon us, and it’s anybody’s game in the race for Best Picture. With eight films vying for the honor this year and no runaway front runner, millions across the country and across the world will wait until Sunday night to learn who will take home the famed golden trophy.

Traditionally, such a crowded field would spell doom for a clear Best Picture; with eight nominees, voters might split among their favorite nominees, allowing an unrepresentative winner to emerge.

Fortunately, the Academy has used ranked-choice voting for Best Picture since 2009. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank nominees in order of preference and ensures that the film with most consensus support wins the Academy’s most distinguished prize.

This year, eight deserving films earned a nod for Best Picture nominee, and on Sunday night, the one with the broadest support among voters will take home the Oscar.

Want to try voting like The Academy? You can rank your favorite Oscar nominees at our poll here: https://www.opavote.org/vote/6397844772618240

And the winner is...Ranked Choice Voting

It’s that time of year again! In just nine days this year’s Oscar nominees will be announced by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ballots were mailed out for nominations in late December, 2014.

The Oscars are among the most prestigious awards in the world of cinema, celebrating excellence and innovation in filmmaking. What may be less well-known is that these awards also demonstrate excellence and innovation in voting.

The nominees for every major category are chosen by ranked choice voting. Because multiple nominees are chosen for each category, multi-seat ranked choice voting - a form of fair representation voting - is used to select nominees. Fair representation voting ensures that more voters will be able to elect a candidate they prefer. In the context of the Oscars, it means that voters with widely varying preferences will be able to see at least one of their favorite films get a key nomination.

In 2009 The Academy decided to increase the maximum number of nominees for Best Picture from 5
to 10. Increasing the number of nominees posed a challenge in ensuring the ultimate winner accurately represented the views of the voters. If only a plurality of votes were required to win Best Picture, a film could win one of the most distinguished awards in the film industry with just over 10% of the vote, leaving this coveted award at risk of strategic voting or an unrepresentative winner. To ensure that the winner was elected with consensus support, The Academy decided to use ranked choice voting to determine the winner for Best Picture.

Ranked choice voting is similar to a runoff system, but even better. Voters rank candidates in order of
preference. When votes are counted, candidates are eliminated one by one starting with the candidate with the fewest first choice rankings, and the eliminated candidates’ votes then get added to the totals of the next choice on each ballot. The process continues until one nominee has over half of the votes. Once a candidate has a majority of the active votes they are declared the winner.

The process used by the Academy to choose Best Picture use this model to ensure that a film with more consensus support actually wins the award. Ranked choice voting makes the Oscars more fair and competitive. A movie with strong support from just a few voters will not defeat a movie that has a broader base of support among the entire academy. That’s why ranked choice voting continues to be promoted for elections more generally, including being  recommended by Roberts Rules of Order.

Ranked choice voting allows for greater choice in nominees without sacrificing election integrity or confidence in results.