How Oscar voting works

         Posted: March 2014

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2014, nomination ballots are mailed to active Academy members in late December. They are “due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting firm, in January.” The January cutoff date is not known.

The Academy states, “Members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories — actors nominate actors, film editors nominated (sic) film editors, etc.” Also, “All voting members are eligible to select the Best Picture nominees.”

In the London Telegraph, posted Feb. 27, 2014, an anonymous Academy member says screenings are held in 4 cities, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and London, begin in November, and continue “almost every day” until the Oscars ceremony.

According to Ryan Nakashima of The Associated Press, every voter is asked to nominate five films for best picture, ranked in order of preference, and “all the films are ranked according to how many first-place votes they received. Any that get over 9.1 percent of the first-place votes are automatically nominated. That ensures that no more than 10 nominees automatically make the cut. If 10 make it, then the counting is done.”

If there are less than 10 films qualifying, according to Nakashima, then “surplus” votes are counted. “Any film that receives votes at least 10 percent above the 9.1-percent automatic nomination threshold will have the surplus votes reallocated according to the voter’s second choice — or third choice if the second choice is already nominated.”

Any films then crossing the 9.1 percent threshold are nominated.

The next step: Those films receiving less than 1 percent of 1st-place votes are eliminated, and those ballots are reallocated to 2nd choices and possibly beyond. Nakashima writes, “Finally, all films with more than 5 percent of the votes are automatically nominated. If there are between five and 10, the counting is done. If there are more than 10, the films with the fewest votes are eliminated and their next-choice votes are redistributed until only 10 remain. If there are less than five, the counters start over and eliminate from the least vote-getters up, while redistributing voters’ next-choice votes until only five remain.”

The nomination results are announced at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern) in the 3rd week of January.

The Academy final ballots are “mailed” to voting members in late January, “and are due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday for final tabulation.”

The anonymous Academy member in the London Telegraph states that the Academy, acknowledging that not every film can be seen on a big screen, will mail members DVDs with no advertising.

Both this member and the Academy confirm that the “entire active membership” is eligible to choose winners in all categories but only after attesting to having seen all of the nominees in a category.

The anonymous member says “6,000 or so” ballots are sent out, and that “most of the voting is online.”

According to Steve Pond of, the Academy uses an “instant runoff voting” system (also used by the Australian parliament) and insists that for choosing best picture (in 2014, there were 9 nominees), Academy members must “legitimately rank all of them 1 through 9.”

Pond says the 9 films are first ranked on number of No. 1 votes received on the ballots.

Assuming no film receives a majority of No. 1 votes, movies receiving the fewest No. 1 votes are then removed from contention. Those ballots are then reviewed for the No. 2 choices. Each of those ballots is then reallocated to the No. 2 choices.

If there is still no winner, Pond says, the film presently with the fewest ballots will be removed, and those ballots reallocated to the next remaining top choice. Pond says ballots listing only 1 choice are completely discarded once/if that choice is eliminated.

The reallocation of ballots continues, Pond says, “until 1 movie ends up with more than half the votes.”

“You have to be a consensus favorite to get the extra votes you need to win,” Pond adds.

The Academy says that “only two partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers know the results until the famous envelopes are opened onstage” during the Oscars ceremony.


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