Oscar Votes 123: Voting and the Oscars: Six Numbers You Need to Know

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.”


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  2. I think you answered this, but I'm a little slow on the uptake, so just to clarify - it's only Best Picture where the winner is decided by rankings points on a preferential ballot, correct? The Acting categories are not decided this way - you only get to vote for one, right?

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