Before You Fill Out That Oscar Pool, Know Your Ballot Rules

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As you know, there is a massive change in this year’s Academy Awards. Instead of the usual five Best Picture nominees, there are now ten. But what you may not know is that, with that expansion, the way the winner is selected from that group of 10 has also changed. Selecting the Best Picture winner, up until now, was a reasonably simple affair. Voters named their pick, and whoever got the most votes won.

No longer. With the expansion, the Oscars have shifted to something called an instant runoff voting system, a scheme that I read the rules of a good 10 times without really understanding. I’ll allow Sean Means of the Salt Lake Tribune to explain:

Voters must mark their favorites in order, 1 through 10… When the folks at PriceWaterhouseCoopers get the ballots, they will separate them into 10 stacks, one for each nominee. Then they will take the smallest stack, cross out the No. 1 choice and redistribute those ballots based on their No. 2 choice. This continues until one stack reaches 50 percent plus one. (This, by the way, is the same system Utah Republicans use to select candidates at their state convention.)

Did you understand that? No? Neither did I. Means interviewed LA Times writer Tom O’Neil, who says the new system could crown a winner that does NOT collect the majority of #1 votes from voters, and thus serve to create a massive upset (He likes “Inglourious Basterds” to win Best Picture).

I don’t understand why the Academy felt it necessary to change the voting in this way. Imagine you’re an Oscar voter. For years, you’ve been asked to name one Best Picture winner, and that’s that. Now, you’re asked to rank them one to ten. It is impossible, when ranking ten things like that, to not be somewhat arbitrary in your listings, especially as you get down to 5-10. Personal opinions on movies fluctuate all the time. Well, I liked this about “A Serious Man,” but then I didn’t like THIS about it. It’s easy to pick one movie as what you consider best and then build the case in your mind for that one movie. But a top ten list is much more subject to the whims of your thinking. Thus, you may not have the strongest feeling about what the #2 movie is in the category. And now, that #2 ranking is crucial.

That doesn’t mean a movie like “Basterds” isn’t deserving of winning the top prize, should it pull off the upset. But if it does, it would stink if people said it won only because the new voting system was so weird.

All of this could be avoided if the Academy simply opened up to the public about how voters voted, which would be the awesomest thing ever. But they won’t. They’ll keep it all under wraps, and that’s why this new system will probably be badmouthed by many in the future.

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