The only large voting bodies who do this are the PGA and the Oscars. That’s why there is a good chance what wins the PGA will win the Oscar. The PGA are 4,500 and the Oscar voters are around 6,000. I’m including after the jump an interview I did with The Wrap’s Steve Pond in 2009 about balloting.  He was spot on.

Deep breath. Focus. Here we go.

1. How many votes would Avatar [or The Hurt Locker, or any other nominee] need to win the first round?

If every single eligible voter casts a ballot, 2,889. (50% of the total number of votes cast is 2,888 1/2, so you go to the next largest number.)

2. Can you explain again the whole magic number thing and why certain films will be divided into piles?

To start with, all the ballots go into piles. One pile for each of the 10 nominees. If somebody has 2,889 first-place votes, nobody can catch them so you have a winner. End of story.

If not, you determine which film has the fewest #1 votes — in other words, which pile of ballots is the smallest. That film is now eliminated from contention. You take each of its ballots, cross out the #1 film, and place the ballot into the stack of whichever film is ranked #2.

Then you recount the nine remaining stacks. If one of them now has 2,889, it’s over. If not, you take the smallest of the nine stacks, eliminate that film, and look to the #2 film on those ballots.

You keep doing this, round after round, until one film has more than half the votes. With 10 nominees, I suspect it will take several rounds to find a winner.

As you go along, in some cases you’ll eliminate a film, look at the #2 choice on its ballot, and find another film that’s already been eliminated. So then you keep going down the ballot until you find the highest-ranked film that’s still in the running.

One of the commenters on your board actually had the best analogy I’ve ever seen for how it works. In essence, you’re asking the voters, “Out of these 10 films, which one is your favorite?” You take their answers, eliminate the least popular film, and then ask, “Out of these 9 films, which is your favorite?” Then, “Out of these 8 films, which is your favorite?” “Out of these 7 films, which is your favorite?” Etc., maybe even all the way down to “Out of these 2 films, which is your favorite?” The preferential ballot allows you to answer that question over and over, until you get the same answer from more than half the voters.

3. If Avatar loses the first round, is the traditional wisdom that it can’t win because it isn’t a number 2 or 3 movie but a number one or a number 10?

That is indeed the conventional wisdom, and I suspect it’s correct. Based on my playing around with critics’ Top 10 lists as if they were Oscar ballots, I suspect that in a field of 10 nominees, the eventual winner will be lucky to get 50% of those 2,889 votes in the first round. Which means you have to have those #2 rankings to stay in the game. I think it’s correct to assume that Avatar is more polarizing than Locker, and I’d bet that Basterds somewhere in between. So for Avatar to survive its lack of #2 and #3 votes, it’s going to need to come out of that first round with a big lead in the #1 votes.

4. Do you expect any real surprises for Best Picture to turn up as a result of the preferential ballot?

No. Granted, the possibility exists for one of the two Up movies, say, to ride to victory on a wave of #2 and #3 votes. But I think there’s a limit to how much ground you can make up if you’re not in first or second place after the first round of counting. When I’ve run mock counts with Top 10 lists, the films that start out in the lead almost always stay there. I think Avatar and Hurt Locker will get the most #1 votes, and I think one of them is going to have enough #2s and #3s to prevail.


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  • Watermelons

    Harvey Weinstein Mentally Casting Himself In Role Of Bizarro Lincoln & Convincing Academy To Vote “Silver Linings Playbook” For All The Dang Oscars

  • John

    I see both Lincoln and Argo having many 1s and 2s.

    I see movies like SLP and Les Miserables getting lots of 1s but then some 7s and 8s if voters go that far, etc.

    ZD30 and Life of Pi. I can’t get my head around what type of movie they’ll be.

  • John

    This is fun:

    Also, actors will mostly go with SLP and Les Mis. Lincoln will have lots of actor support, too.

    I’d think that Oprah and her cronies in AMPAS will go for Lincoln. She really seemed bowled over by it, and she loves Spielberg.

    Directors will likely go for Lincoln or Life of Pi, perhaps a few for SLP.

    British voters will mostly go for Argo and Life of Pi.

    I don’t see a group, other than editors that will go wild for ZD30, so that seems out (controversy or not).

  • danemychal

    I’m going to ask Pond on Twitter if BP voters HAVE to even pick a #2 or #3, etc. all the way down the line. My gut feeling is they don’t. However, I assume most WILL have a second or third opinion, wishing to help another film they admired contribute to beating ones they didn’t like in the event that their #1 choice doesn’t win.

  • keifer

    Simply explained. I get it.

    Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if they adopted preferential voting for the acting awards too? Or, for that matter, all of the categories? Or is that making it too hard for AMPAS members?

    If it works for one category, it should work for the others. Right?

  • Mika

    Being an Aussie I know all about the preferential ballot system. It almost always seems that under this system it advantages the second placed candidate if no-one reaches 50% plus one vote on the first preference vote. There have been so many times where a candidate has polled 40 to 45% of first preference votes and they have lost. In oscar campaigning the studios need to target the 2nd preference votes of the smaller liked films, so that when their film is eliminated their vote goes over as a whole vote to either Argo, Lincoln or SLP. That is how Best Picture will be won or lost. (Whoever manages to get the preferences of the smaller backed films)

  • Mika

    Soon the studios will probably start sending out How to Vote cards to all the academy members telling them how to allocate their preferences. This system is very much open to manipulation and fraud. I’ve never been a fan of it!!!

  • Right. This is how it has been. I’m not saying the system of counting will change. But didn’t they change how many movies you rank? Or was that just nominations? Are they ranking all 9 movies? Have we seen a ballot?

  • Scott

    As much as I like the idea of preferential ballot voting there will always be fundamental problems with it. Just for example, say that only one person ranked Lincoln as #1, but everyone else ranked it at #2. It would be thrown out in it’s first round, and it’s broad support (via #2 ranks) would never come into play.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding something…

  • Scott

    And now I’m trying to think of a voting system that would be “perfect”.

    What if of all the BP nominees, you ranked each movie on a scale of 0-10, and the scores from all votes were just added up?

    Your 10 for Les Mis and my 10 for Argo would keep them tied, but if you gave Argo a 5 and I gave Les Mis a 6 then Les Mis would win, and that win would be reflective of every voters feelings.

  • Danemychal

    Scott, its already a nominee. As long as one of the 8 movies didn’t reach the majority after round one counting, it would go to round 2 counting and would make a killing there with second place votes.

  • Scott

    That’s right, thank you Danemychal, I was getting my thoughts mixed up with the nomination process.

    Another thought (and please tell me if I’m incorrect, lol) is that let’s say Lincoln wins by hitting the magic # in the first round. Though on every non-Lincoln-#1 ballot it was ranked #10 – so people loved it or hated it. Meanwhile Les Mis was ranked #1 on a lot, and #2 on the rest. Les Mis has more “support” across the board, but Lincoln had just enough #1s. Mathematically, it’s the “better” film, but reasonably it isn’t as liked as Les Mis.

    (obviously I used those titles just for this example. If I never see Les Mis again it will be too soon)

  • Mika

    The system that should be introduced is the “Optional Preferential Voting System” whereby members either just vote 1 for their favourite film or they can vote 1 and distribute as many preferences as they like. For example, if they like Les Mis, they could just vote 1 and nothing else, or vote Les Mis and give a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th preference to the other films. They might decide that they only liked two films and give two preferences or they might preference all 9 films. To me, ths system would cancel out the poorly ranked films from influencing the result.

  • Patrick

    Mika, I don’t see how the optional preferential voting system would “cancel out the poorly ranked films from influencing the result” any differently from the full preferential system.

    If anything, what the optional system would do is increase the likelihood of a polarizing/passionate film to win. This is because the optional system would allow ballots to be discarded completely, thus reducing the 50 percent number of votes needed. Whereas the full preferential system ensures that the 50 percent number of votes is constant all the way through. It also implicitly encourages voters to watch all the nominees.

  • danny


    your comment about assigning points by ranking is interesting. This system actually isn’t that different, with one major exception, when you get to the next round, a second place vote counts as a FULL vote. Now if they made it a fraction of a full vote, depending on how far down the list it was, that would be a lot fairer.

    I think the best system is to let them rank them as they do now, but just assign points based on rank and add them up. first pref = 100, second = 80, third = 60 (I’m making it exponential so that by the time you get to fifth or sixth place they barely count).

    Then again we’re just talking about the preferences of people in the industry who may or may not have seen screeners if they can be bothered. No amount of justice in the voting system will make them pick the RIGHT movie 🙂

  • Someone

    Well, the last three years have shown clearly (no suprises so far!) that preferential balloting doesn’t make any difference.

  • Sasha Stone

    Actually someone that isn’t true – it HAS shown that it makes a difference between a passionate upset and a generally liked film. Avatar would have needed passionate votes to overcome Hurt Locker – believe it or not, everyone back then was doing what they’re doing now – predicting one person to take director (Spielberg) and another movie to win BP. That can really only happen (I THINK) in a non-prefential type setting. Although I remember having done the research during those years where the preferential ballot was in play – pre-1945 and there were a few splits even then so I suppose it is possible. What you need is a significant number of number 1 votes. You have to be the leader or very close to the lead. Then if you aren’t the leader you’ll have to be #2 or #3 on most ballots. Still seems like there are at least two, maybe three films in this position right now.

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