Voices & Choices

Ranked Choice Voting used for Oscars 2020 nominations

Ranked Choice Voting used for Oscars 2020 nominations

And the winner is....fair representation! 

The 92nd Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are less than a month away. The nominees, chosen using a ranked choice ballot, are set to be announced on January 13. 

The nomination process, which started on January 2 and wraps up January 9, is something we at FairVote like to talk about because the voting system that the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures uses for most major categories has been in place since the 1930s is the reform we’ve been advocating for since FairVote was founded. It’s a fair, “proportional” form of multi-winner ranked choice voting (also known as single transferable vote), and it gives voters more freedom to express their top choices and more representation of the voters. 

We call it the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting because there are multiple nominees chosen in each of the major Oscar categories. Widely used overseas, this system has been used in Cambridge, Mass., since the 1940s and is also currently featured in some park board races in Minneapolis, Minn., and Eastpointe, Mich., where it was adopted in 2019 to remedy a Voting Rights Act lawsuit. 

This fair representation form of RCV is used for every major category except Best Picture, which uses a variation of it that puts a greater weight on votes’ first choices and allows more than five nominees. But in all the other big categories, each branch of the Academy member votes this way.

Here is how it all works. Academy members in their own branch (actors voting for actors, directors for directors and so on) are allowed to rank up to five potential nominees in their category -- instead of choosing, say, just one, (to put it in perspective, there are 344 best picture contenders).

In order to secure an Academy nomination, a nominee must receive about 17 percent of the vote, either in the first round or subsequent ranked choice voting rounds. At the end of the count, reliably more than four in five Academy voters will have helped a contender be nominated in the field they know best. This speaks to why the Academy picked this approach: they wanted as many members as possible to feel a stake in Oscar night. 

Check out the video we created last year explaining the process:

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Unfortunately, the Oscars haven’t been a role model for accurate and adequate representation for historically underrepresented communities, but it’s not the voting system that is to blame. The voting system is literally as inclusive as mathematically possible based on who is getting to cast votes.

It has been two years since #OscarSoWhite trended on Twitter. Since then, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science has worked to change the make-up of its electorate by increasing diversity as a way to improve representation of women and people of color. 

In 2019, the Academy added 842 new members, including actors, casting directors, costume designers, directors, and others. The new added membership is comprised of 50 percent women and 29 percent people of color, bringing the total membership overall to 32 percent of women and 16 percent people of color. While there is still a lot of room for improvement, progress is being made -- even if it’s slow. 

But is the Academy entirely to blame? At the core is a representation problem in the film industry, as, in many cases, stories highlighting the experiences of women and people of color are not being featured on the big screen.

Reese Witherspoon started her own production company so that she could work on more projects with women, and did it because "women want to see themselves on screen and they don't want to see this very one-dimensional wife or girlfriend of a superhero." In her line of work, Witherspoon also emphasizes the importance of changing and diversifying the stories on the big screen.

Oftentimes, there is a lack of diversity in the film industry that is and has historically been dominated by men, so it’s no surprise representation is lacking in all major categories. 

With all that said, because of the Academy’s system of fair representation voting, its voting system is more reflective of voters views and allows them true choice during the nominating process.

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