With choice voting for Oscar nominations, passion wins

by Wael Abdel Hamid // Published January 31, 2011
oscar nominees


In the days since the nominations of the 83th Oscars’ ceremony awards were announced, the entertainment press has written quite a bit about the surprises, along with the usual talk of scandalous snubs. What should be highlighted more, we believe, is the important role of the system used to choose these nominees -- who, no matter matter happens in the final vote, are already winners.

Much attention focuses on the battle for Best Picture, seen by many to be between “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network”, two movies with very different profiles: one telling he story of a king trying to improve his speaking skills in a World War II background while the other telling the story of the more current topic of the early days of Facebook.

But while those movies are the frontrunners, nearly every other nominated film has its advocates. As Jen Chaney for the Washington Post writes.

“Let's just stop arguing, America, and accept the fact that all the movies competing for Oscar's top token of glory are pretty darn good.”

What Chaney doesn’t mention, however, is that this outcome speaks to what it means to use the choice voting form of proportional representation for in the voting for nominations, where winning requires having some people really wanting you as a first choice. Earning a nomination is a “win” in itself, and what we have seen this week is the “fair representation” day of victories: nominees in all categories are winners with at least significant numbers of Academy voters.

Entertainment Week this week also has a revealing and entertaining (if poorly named) article about the Oscar voting nomination rules. The magazine held an election for about 2,000 of its readers who voted for Best Picture. Interestingly, using the same counting rules used by the Academy, eight of its ten winners were the same as nominated by the Academy, which reinforces the basic fairness of the voting method. Writer John’s Young final conclusion is exactly right: “A film or performance doesn’t capture a nomination simply by being liked by everyone — it needs to be loved.”

Like the rest of us, of course, not all Academy voters “love” the same kind of performance or the same kind of movie. Some are more traditional, some more interested in change. Some like a certain acting style, others a different one. The idea for nominations is that at least some people are likely to need to think it was a genuine top performance.. If we take for example the Best Picture category, we can praise the fact that a low budget, less well-known movie like Winter’s Bone can earn nominations along with blockbusters like Inception and Toy Story 3.

Not everyone can win, of course. In the documentary category, for example, the influential documentary “Waiting for Superman” was not nominated, much to the distress of some of the film’s fans. But as AJ Schnack argues in a recent blogpost on “Unraveling the Myths Behind Superman's Oscar" Snub’this week it had real competition:

“A surprise is not a snub. Yes, it was a surprise that 'Waiting for Superman' wasn't on Oscar's final list of 5, but we figured a surprise was coming (we just picked the wrong one) and just because it was surprising doesn't make it a snub. As I wrote on Monday, voters were looking for a passion pick to "stand as the emblem of the exceptionally great year that we just had."

For a movie or an artist, earning a nomination in such a prestigious ceremony is really winning one. Thus, to win a nomination, Academy voters – voting in the category they know best, as all nomination voting is restricted to particular categories of Academy voters except for Best Picture -- must be passionate by their work and voters by their performances. That’s a good thing for Oscar nominations – and is good for representation in legislatures.

We recently posted this message at FairVote's OscarVotes123.com, a website focused on the Academy Awards and the voting method used for nominations and selection of Best Picture -- see more at Oscar Votes 123.