Vote Like the Academy: Oscars 2017

Posted by Shane Wade on January 12, 2017

Following last year’s long, bruising election, some might cherish not seeing the word “voting” again for a time. Fortunately, this particular voting comes from a much more light-hearted place: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Oscar nomination voting began last Thursday and runs through Friday, January 13. Now is a good time to learn the process the Academy uses to select their Oscar nominees and winners.

The Academy Votes (a lot)

With nearly 7,000 voting members, ranging from the very visible directors and actors to background and industry professionals like writers and editors, the Academy has a diverse swath of participating voters invested in the outcome. To ensure the outcome of their voting is fair and representative, the Academy’s voting system differs from how most people in the United States vote in two ways:

  • They use ranked choice voting to decide the nominees of each category and the winner of their largest category, Best Picture.

  • They restrict voting to just the members within their own professional branch (except for Best Picture and the four acting categories).

By using ranked choice voting, the Academy encourages increased voter  participation — giving voters a direct ability to nominate their favorite actors, directors and films, and deeply consider the merits of the available choices.

The Nomination Process

Oscars_1930s_2017_blog.jpgFair voting systems have been part of the Oscars nomination process from the start, as nominees have been selected using ranked ballots since the 1930s. Ranked choice voting is used to narrow the nominee field in each of the 24 categories to just five choices. In this initial voting process, members of the Academy receive a ballot for the appropriate category. They can rank as many as five choices on their ballot in order of preference, and their ballot counts until all five nomination slots are filled. Unlike a vote-for-one system, voters can indicate their sincere favorite to be nominated, while remaining confident that they will have a voice throughout the nominating process if their favorite doesn’t have enough support to win. This allows a variety of nominees to be considered--from blockbuster hits, to independent films.

The Best Picture category uses ranked choice voting to select the nominees AND the winner. The category’s field of nominees is set at a maximum of ten, however by using ranked choice voting,  the film with the broadest appeal and overall largest preference by the voters wins the category.

(If you’re interested in the mathematical breakdown of how many votes it would take to win an Oscar, Steve Pond at TheWrap has a guide for you).

A Better Way to Vote

This form of voting ensures greater choice goes into the hands of voters, which matters (even if it’s just for awards). Sound appealing? We, and millions of citizens around the country and political spectrum, think so too. In fact, since 1941 Cambridge, Massachusetts has used ranked choice voting to select multiple nominees in electing their city council and school committee. 

Once the nomination voting concludes and Oscar nominations are announced, the voting on those nominations will begin on Monday, Feb. 13 and end on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will be on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Stay tuned to our “Oscar Votes 1, 2, 3” blog series for continued voting analysis and how it shapes the 2017 Academy Awards.


Photo Courtesy: Davidlohr Bueso and Dell Publications

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