Oscar Votes 123

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Oscars, Diversity and Ranked Choice Voting

All the prominent award systems in the entertainment industry are subject to complaints about winners, nominations, and perceived snubs. The Academy Awards are no different, with particular concerns this year that all 20 nominated actors and actresses are white for the second straight year, triggering the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and commitments from The Academy to diversify the membership that votes on nominations.

The Academy's full membership votes to nominate Best Picture, while other categories are only nominated by Academy members in that category – actors voting for actors, directors for directors and so on. With ranked choice voting, voters rank their choices, and in the five-nomination categories it requires roughly 17% of first choices to win. Any nominee securing more than this victory threshold has a share of each vote count for the second choice on the ballot, and after all such surplus votes are distributed, last-place candidates are eliminated, and their ballots added to the totals of their second choice. At the end of the count, nearly everyone helps nominate someone in their category. (As we’ve explained, Best Picture was changed a few years ago to a rather puzzling form of ranked choice voting that can result in the nomination of movies with a much smaller base of passionate support.)

This year’s nominees reflect diverse appreciation for performances from veterans and rising stars. In the Best Actress category, nominees include well-known previous winners (Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence), new rising stars (Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan) and veteran Charlotte Rampling. Rampling’s 45 Years is a low-budget film just being released to American audiences, but enough fellow actors appreciated her performance to elevate her over better-known actresses.

Best Director nominees went to a big budget blockbuster (George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road), last year’s winner (Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant), and the two best picture frontrunners (Adam McKay for The Big Short and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight), but also in a surprise to Lenny Abrahamson, the director of Room. Abrahamson almost certainly would lost in a winner-take-all nomination process, but had a passionate base of support that could earn him a nomination with ranked choice voting.


A 2012 analysis by the Los Angeles times, indicated The Academy members are overwhelmingly white (94%) and male (76%). Overall, since 2000 African Americans garnered 10 percent of acting nominations and 15 percent of the wins, despite under-representation of African Americans on screen (studies suggest about 9 percent of the characters onscreen have been black). Other racial minorities have less history of high-profile performances and nominations. Merle Oberon, nominated for Best Actress in 1935, is the only Asian woman nominated for the award. While African Americans have had a history of being nominated in the past two decades, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign challenges the lack of representation for people of color throughout the industry by raising concerns with the nominees of the last two years.

This year, the only person of color nominated for a major award is director Alejandro González Iñárritu who won the Oscar last year for Birdman. No movies made by, starring, or about African Americans received nominations for any of the major awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director), even Creed and Straight Outta Compton that were critics' and fan favorites.

There was more racial diversity in other categories. As explained in a revealing piece by Southern California Public Radio, voters in the animation category have far more women and people of color than many other categories, dating back to hiring practices by Walt Disney decades ago, and their nominees reflect it. In the animation category, women and people of color regularly are nominated and win including most recently Big Hero 6’s win last year and this year’s nominations for Inside Out and When Marnie Was There. The diversity in the animation category demonstrates how, when a portion of Hollywood itself is more diverse - both in who gets to work and who gets to vote - Oscar nominations will more regularly reflect that diversity, thanks to RCV.
Diverse Voices, a Diverse Electorate, and Diverse Winners

Raked choice voting (RCV) is in fact the most fair and representative voting method available to the Academy. When used to elect multiple candidates, RCV is great at representing a diversity of voices in a diverse voting population. We can look at other RCV elections to see it impact.

Cambridge, Minneapolis, the Bay Area, and countries such as Ireland and Australia all use forms of ranked choice voting for many of their elected bodies. Cambridge is uses the multi-winner system similar to the Academy’s system for nominations. After the 2013 elections, as explained by FairVote’s Andrew Douglas, the Cambridge City Council was the most representative it had ever been, with an African American, Arab American, Asian American, and a Latino American serving alongside five other colleagues who received support from a diverse (racial and political) array of Cambridge residents. The majority of voters have the power to elect a majority of seats, but minority voters of all kinds earn their fair share.

RCV and the Academy Going Forward

It’s encouraging that The Academy is focusing on increasing the diversity of its voting population, with others focusing rightly on diversity within the industry as a whole, including who gets to make movies, gets hired for technical work, and gets onscreen. The Academy’s reforms tackle its membership, governing bodies, and voting eligibility. Three new seats will be created on the Governing Board, and The Academy will launch “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity,” though the specifics of this effort remain unclear. In addition, some members of The Academy may have their voting rights revoked after ten years of inactivity. The Academy argues this will ensure active and diverse members will have a stronger voice.

As Viola Davis said during her Best Actress Emmy acceptance speech last year, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” If these reforms work as planned, women (and men) of color will hopefully be given greater opportunity to create great art and be recognized for it. Ranked choice voting works to increase representation. The Academy's continued use of fair voting ensures that all voters participate in a meaningful election to elect a candidate they prefer.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Fair Shot: The Academy Ranks Their Choices to Select Oscar Nominees

Today is a big day for movie fans as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announces the nominations for award categories from Best Picture to Best Sound Mixing. The nominations are packed with major blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road to lesser known critically acclaimed films like Room. You may recognize a couple of your favorites on the list. Some nominees may leave you asking how does the Academy choose which movies grab these coveted spots in each category?

The Academy is made up of over 6,000 voting members, including the most credentialed actors, writers, directors, and other professionals from across the industry. For decades, the Academy has used for nearly all nominations (including all major categories except Best Picture) the "multi-winner" form of ranked choice voting FairVote supports for legislative elections because it wants as many Academy voters as possible to have a hand in directly nominating one of their favorites in their category of expertise--actors voting for actors, film editors voting for editors, and so on.

The Academy ranks their choices

Academy members 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. For most of its history, Best Picture was nominated this way as well, but modified the process somewhat starting in 2011 which is why the number of nominees in that category may vary from 5 to 10, but the same principles of proportional representation are used. By ensuring that more Academy voters have their vote count toward “electing” a nominee, the Academy ensures that almost everyone will have a movie, actress/actor, director, etc, near the top of their rankings that is in the hunt for an award for a given category.

In a vote-for-one system Academy voters would be faced with tough considerations. For one, voters would not have the freedom they currently do to vote for more obscure options that they think are deserving of a nomination, for fear of wasting their one vote on a movie or actor that has little chance of being nominated. Instead, 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. The system also eliminates strategic considerations for voters, as surplus support for a candidate that has already been nominated is not wasted, and can help nominate other worthy candidates in a category.

A History Of Fair Voting

Fair voting empowers voters. Since 1941 Cambridge has elected its nine-member city council and six-member school committee in citywide ranked choice voting elections. Fair voting in Cambridge works to give voters a full range of choices and representation to political and racial minority groups.
Fair voting systems have been part of the Oscars nomination process from the start, as nominees have been selected using ranked ballots since the 1930s. Last year, like most years, blockbuster hits shared the Best Picture stage with arthouse films: The biographical war drama American Sniper was nominated alongside the intimate coming-of-age story Boyhood, with the experimental single-take Birdman eventually taking the top prize.

The Academy’s use of ranked ballots doesn’t stop with the nomination process--stay tuned as our “Oscar Votes 1, 2, 3” blog series analyzes the use of ranked choice voting to select the winner among this year’s eight nominees for Best Picture. With the nominees now released, be sure to participate in our ranked choice voting polls for Best Actress and Best Actor, and look for further analysis as the results come in.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Birdman Wins Best Picture

In the days leading up to Oscars night, there was no runaway front runner for Best Picture that emerged (as reported by FairVote’s blog). With eight deserving nominees to choose from, problems like vote splitting could have been a concern if the Academy was still using a plurality voting system to determine the Best Picture winner. But, thankfully, the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting has been used for this category since 2009. How did this impact results?

Prior to the ceremony, Walt Hickey of fivethirtyeight.com observed “the film that wins Sunday night might not have been everyone’s first choice, but it will have had the most fans across the Academy.” His observation was an apt one, as the results of our OPA Oscars poll declared “Boyhood” the winner and the Academy ultimately chose “Birdman” as the winner, both of which seemed to have the largest bases of support going into Oscars night.

Moreover, “Birdman” gained support even though its box office sales were low, demonstrating that ranked choice voting allows for votes that are based on the general support a movie garners rather than its ticket sales/box office appeal. As the New York Times stated: “Despite relatively meager domestic ticket sales of $37.8 million, ‘Birdman’ had been the favorite to win best picture, having swept the top prize at banquet after banquet leading up to the Oscars.”

Another Oscars season has come and gone, and ranked choice voting once again provided a Best Picture winner that had broad support from voters without compromising the intensity of the race. Visit FairVote’s ranked choice voting page to learn more about its application in political elections.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing is believing, new video explaining how The Academy nominates and selects winners

Watch this video, created by CNN, that explains how The Academy nominates films for every category and a description of how ranked choice voting is used to determine what film wins Best Picture.
Check it out! http://www.fox28.com/story/28142044/2015/02/18/academy-awards-how-voting-works

Once you understand how The Academy votes for best picture, give it a try yourself at our Best Picture Poll http://2015-01-21.opavote.appspot.com/vote/6397844772618240

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LA Times Clunker: Page 1 Story Fails in Explaining Ranked Choice Voting for Best Picture

As voting method nerds who appreciate the values of ranked choice voting (RCV) elections, we at FairVote got a kick out of the Los Angeles Times running a front-page story today on the  RCV system (also called "preferential voting" and "instant runoff voting) that is used to elect the Academy Award for Best Picture and also for nearly all Oscar nominations.

The story comes with some nifty graphics that get the story right -- be sure to check them out.

Unfortunately, the news story itself is a big disappointment. Reporter Glenn Whipp gets key details wrong -- including, most disturbingly, in his implicit advice about how a voter allegedly might try to game the vote.

First, Whipp fails to mention that ranked choice voting is nothing new for Academy of Motion Picture voters. In fact, Best Picture nominees have been selected by ranked choice voting ballot since the 1930s, as has nearly every other category (acting categories, director and many more). We've explained how the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting works for nominations before. As a result, there is not a single Academy voter alive who has not been asked to cast a ranked choice voting ballot when nominating movies every year since they've became eligible to vote.

That's part of a general oversight to suggest that ranked choice voting is particularly novel. In fact, it's used to elect the parliament of Australia, president of Ireland, mayor of London and city leaders of at least ten American cities, including Minneapolis (MN), St. Paul (MN), Oakland (CA) and San Francisco (CA). It's even more commonly used in non-governmental elections. Robert's Rules of Order explains it as the best way to choose  leaders when needing to vote by mail, and many major private associations and more than 50 American colleges and universities use it to pick leaders. Other awards using include the Producers Guild of America and the Hugo Awards for science fiction.

Second, Whipp tried to be provocative with his opening, writing: "The Oscar winner for best picture Sunday night probably won't be the movie that the majority of voters put atop their ballots."


If you understand "majority of ballots" to mean having more than half the votes, then Whipp is absolutely wrong. As soon as a movie has the votes of more than half of voters, that movie has won. Period.

If Whipp actually meant "having the most first choice rankings," he's correct that this does not guarantee a victory. But he's wrong to suggest that leading in first choices is somehow a disadvantage. Having the most first choices actually does help you win. As an example, San Francisco has used ranked choice voting to elect 18 city offices, including mayor, since 2004. Of the 51 administered elections that used ranked choice voting, 30 were won on the first count. Of the 21 others, 19 were won by the candidates who led after the first count. Only two were "comeback victories."

Of course a key value of ranked choice voting is to ensure that the leader in first choices isn't a polarizing choice that could win only because of a divided majority vote. Ranked choice voting avoids the controversy experienced last week when Beck defeated Beyonce for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Vox has a piece explaining that Beck may well have won only because he was the only nominee with a rock album, thereby benefiting from a split vote.

Most irritatingly, Whipp gives voters bad advice about how to vote, He writes "Some academy members, particularly those with a vested interest in the outcome, know enough to rank their own movie first and their closest competitor's last."


That's in fact not smart advice at all. In fact, long-time savvy entertainment writer Steve Pond took on that myth with a hard-hitting piece in 2011 called Oscars Best Picture Ballot: Don’t Believe the Schmucks. Pond observes ""I went to a party over the weekend, and heard a producer who'd gotten a Best Picture nomination telling people, "It's a weighted ballot. You need to vote for [my movie] number one, and [our biggest competitor] number 10." He's wrong. It's not a weighted ballot. And his strategy would not do a damn thing to help his movie."

Unfortunately, Whipp just elevated the "schmuck" analysis to page one of the Los Angeles Times.

The fact is that with the ranked choice voting ballot for Best Picture, every voter has one and only one vote, and their vote never counts for more than one movie at a time. It's a series of "instant runoffs", with the last-place film eliminated after each round, and ballots cast for that movie then added to the totals of the next ranked choice on each ballot.

So yes, voters should rank movies in order of choice, as this gives their vote a backup. That backup will count only if your first choice has lost. That's why ranking your top competitor last does nothing to help your 1st choice. Your ballot will count for your first choice and ONLY for your first choice unless at some point during the count it ends up in last place and is eliminated from contention.

There's no way to "game" the vote with an insincere ballot. Anyone trying to do so is just hurting themselves -- and their favorite movies.

So Academy voters, rank your choices in order of preference, just as you can with our demonstration election with this year's nominees. And let's get out the popcorn and enjoy Oscar night on Sunday!