March 6, 2010

Even At The Oscars Voting Systems Can Be Puzzling

EXPLAINING OSCAR'S new voting system for best picture is a little like watching a David Lynch movie: Sometimes you have to nod your head and pretend you understand.

As byzantine as the Academy Awards' new preferential voting format is, there's good reason to change from the one-vote, one-movie system of the past. With 10 nominees, a movie could ostensibly win with 11% of the overall vote.

The new system ensures that won't happen, but Oscar could probably use a statistics major by his side when counting ballots. In short:

  • Academy members are asked to rank the 10 best-picture nominees in order of preference.
  • If a movie gets 51% or more of the vote (unlikely), the contest is over. If not, auditors with PricewaterhouseCoopers will divide the movies into 10 stacks. The movie with the fewest No. 1 votes is eliminated, and that stack's No. 2 votes go to the remaining corresponding films.
  • If a majority isn't reached with those No. 2 votes, the process repeats, eliminating the next-lowest pile, whose votes are redistributed. The process continues until one film has a majority vote. Until that time, if a ballot's No. 2 choice has been eliminated, the auditors go to No. 3 and then as far down the ballot as necessary.

Though the new system ensures some consensus, it raises the possibility that a movie with more No. 2 and No. 3 votes could beat the film with the most first-place ballots.

"With 10 movies and this system, we have a real race for once," says Sasha Stone of "At this point, I wouldn't be surprised by any name they read."

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