Explaining Oscar's enigmatic ballot

Timothy Gray // Published January 8, 2008 in Variety Magazine
For those who have finally figured out how the Iowa Caucuses work, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Tuesday presented a new challenge: understanding Oscar ballots.
At a session for the media at the Acad’s BevHills HQ, PricewaterhouseCoopers honchos Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas went through a step-by-step explanation of the complicated process, which is designed to make every voice heard (and ensure there are no ties in nominations).

The Acad is the only showbiz org that uses the preferential voting system, in which voters cast a nomination ballot with their top five choices.

The process is easy to follow for anyone with an advanced degree in accounting and a few hours to spare. For those who can’t afford either, here’s a simplified version.

The order in which you list your preferences is important. In the first round of ballot-counting, the PWC honchos go through all the first choices. If your first choice winds up with a nomination, your ballot is set aside -- thus ensuring that your voice was heard; now it’s time to give the other voters a chance.

With ballots due Saturday at PricewaterhouseCoopers HQ, here are some other facts voters need to know:
  • A film or individual needs at least one first-place vote. If every single voter puts a film as his second choice, but nobody puts it first, it will not get a nomination.
  • This is not a “weighted ballot.” Some systems give different points for different slots -- 10 points for first place, eight for second place, etc. -- but this isn’t that system.
  • You may make five terrific choices in those five slots, but only one of them will be counted.
  • It doesn’t help your candidate if you fill out only one line, or fill the same name/title in all five slots.
  • PWC accountants do not penalize you for spelling mistakes or bad penmanship. But if you offer confusing information -- voting for Meryl Streep in “The Queen,” for example -- that vote is thrown out.
It takes about a dozen PWC accountants to tally up the nominations. Acad exec director Bruce Davis admitted with a laugh, “We use a system more complicated than anybody else’s.”

For more details on preferential voting, or “single transferable voting” as it’s sometimes called, go to Variety.com/ballots and check out the Jan. 14, 2004 Daily Variety article “Oscar ballots made (sorta) easy.”

After that, you may fully understand this. But probably not.