Voices & Choices

Roll out the red carpet for ranked choice voting at the Oscars

Roll out the red carpet for ranked choice voting at the Oscars

Dim the lights, cue the music, and open the envelope.

And the winner is...ranked choice voting?

Unfortunately, ‘best voting method’ is not among the 24 award categories recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, ranking choices plays a starring role in the Academy Awards, also known as The Oscars.

In fact, ranked ballots are being cast right now, as Academy members make their nominations for Best Picture and the other awards in their field (actors nominate for the best and supporting actor and actress, directors for best director, and so on).

With the option to rank up to five nominations per category, and a record 7,902 voting members, it’s no surprise that even the most voted for nominee often secures a very small percentage of the vote. Rather than force a short list that fails to represent a majority of Academy members’ choices, fair representation voting, also known as multi-winner ranked choice voting, comes into play - a longstanding tradition used for nominations since the 1930’s.

To make the five-item nomination list used in most categories, a nominee must secure about 17 percent support, either outright in first choices or through the subsequent ranked choice voting tally that factors in voters’ backup choices. (The Best Picture category nominations work slightly differently, using a ranked choice system that gives more weight to first choices and allows up to 10 nominees on the final list).The resulting “short list” reflects at least one nomination from about 85 percent of  Academy voters - in other words, nearly every voter played a part in determining the nominees.

Ranked choice voting returns for a second act in determining the recipient of the prestigious Best Picture award, protecting the principle of majority winner despite the often highly competitive, 10-way race. No spoilers in sight - providing that there are no envelope mishaps.

And though it won’t go home with an award, we think that’s truly worthy of a red carpet roll out.


Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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