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Academy Awards: How the nominations and voting work

Different branches of the academy determine the nominees in their respective categories. All voting members can vote for best picture nominees.

February 27, 2011|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times
  • All 5,755 voting academy members are eligible to choose their top 10 best picture nominees.
All 5,755 voting academy members are eligible to choose their top 10 best… (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty…)

How does the nomination and voting process for the Oscars work?

Regular Oscars are presented for individual or collective achievements in about two dozen categories. Members from each branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories — actors nominate actors, for example, while film editors nominate film editors, each member selecting up to five nominees. For the animated feature film and foreign-language film categories, multi-branch screening committees vote on the nominees.

All 5,755 voting members are eligible to choose their top 10 best picture nominees.

Once the nominations are made, all voting members can cast ballots for winners in all categories, although in five categories — animated short film, live-action short film, documentary feature, documentary short subject and foreign-language film — members must attest that they have seen all of the nominated films in those categories.

Most categories have five nominees, but for best picture, which has 10, there's a preferential voting system. For this, voters are asked to rank their best-picture choices from 1 to 10 (though they are not required to complete the ballot in full). Then the ballots are gathered and separated into piles according to voters' first choices. Each movie gets its own pile — the film that appears most frequently as a first-place choice will have the largest stack, the movie with the next-most first-place votes will have the second-largest, and so forth. Then each stack is counted.

If one film has more than 50% of the votes on the first round (unlikely), it is declared the winner. If it doesn't, the academy will take the shortest stack — the movie that got the fewest first-place votes — eliminate it from contention and redistribute those ballots to the remaining piles according to their second-choice movies.

The tally then begins again: If a film now has passed 50% of the ballots, it wins. If it doesn't, the tabulators go to the smallest stack remaining, eliminate that movie, remove that stack and go down those ballots to voters' next-highest choice (of a movie that remains in contention, of course) and redistribute the ballots across the piles once again. The process repeats until one stack ends up with a majority.

Tabulations are done by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Only two partners of the accounting firm will know the results before the envelopes are opened on stage during the Academy Awards.

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

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