As people watched the Academy Awards last Sunday, we wonder how many realized that the nominees were chosen by preferential voting – in particular, a variant of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The Academy Award organization actually uses slightly different rules for their various awards, so we can’t describe just one system, but most nominees in most categories are chosen using the following method:
- Most award categories accept five finalists.
- Academy members who are eligible to nominate movies in a particular category receive a ballot on which they can indicate their top five preferences (using numbers from 1 to 5).
- Any movies that don’t receive at least one first-place choice from a voter are eliminated.
- All ballots with the same first choice are grouped together.
- Any nominee with more than 1/6th of the total number of votes will become a finalist.
- If there are fewer than five finalists, the remaining nominee with the fewest number of votes will be eliminated and the ballots transferred to the next choice on each ballot.
- Step 6 repeats until there are five finalists.
In effect, this is a multi-seat version of Instant Runoff Voting, in which the lowest ranked candidates are sequentially eliminated. It has the effect of choosing a broad set of widely supported nominees.
This year, the Academy introduced a slightly different procedure for selecting the Best Picture nominees. The new process is a little closer in spirit to the Single Transferable Voting method recommended by BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in that extra votes (votes beyond the 1/6th of the ballots needed to win a finalist position) are redistributed in part to the second choice on each ballot after an initial round of elimination and transfers from the least popular nominees. This extra step is intended to ensure that ‘passion rules’ – i.e., that movies need both to have a loyal following and some broad support.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the way we elected our legislatures?