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3-min read

Who Votes For the Oscars, and How Does the Academy Choose Winners Every Year?

We take you through the complex, sometimes confounding process that leads to the winners of the 24 Academy Awards every year.


Updated:February 24, 2019, 11:46 PM IST
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Who Votes For the Oscars, and How Does the Academy Choose Winners Every Year?
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The ballots are almost all in. Millions of television viewers around the globe will tune in Sunday to watch the Oscars, the glitziest night in showbiz, but most don't know how the winners are chosen.

Less than 8,000 people in the entertainment industry select the honorees - and Tuesday marks the final day of voting. The following is a look at the complex, sometimes confounding process that leads to the winners of the 24 Academy Awards:

Who votes?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles currently has 7,902 voting members. Academy membership is divided into 17 branches - actors, directors, producers, costume designers, etc - and candidates must be active or otherwise have "achieved distinction" in the industry.

Applicants must be sponsored by two Academy members representing their branch. Oscar winners and nominees are automatically considered for membership and don't need sponsors.

Applications are reviewed once a year by the Academy's Board of Governors, which has the final say on who joins the elite group. Members used to enjoy voting rights for life but since 2016, "voting status" has been limited to 10 years, and is renewable, to avoid having voters who are no longer active in the business.

Lifetime voting rights only come after three 10-year terms. Those not active become "emeritus" members who cannot vote.

Who are the Academy members?

On principle, the Academy does not reveal its voting roll, though nothing prevents a member from saying he or she can cast a ballot.

Following the #OscarsSoWhite uproar in 2015 and 2016, about the lack of black nominees, the Academy has endeavored to be more inclusive, vowing to double the number of women and minority members by 2020.

In June 2018, the Academy took the unusual step of revealing the names of all 928 people invited to join. If they all agreed, 31 percent of Academy members are now women and 16 percent are people of color, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

How are the nominees chosen?

Members of each of the 17 branches pick the nominees in their area of expertise. The actors' branch - the largest voting group - submits nominations for the acting categories, directors submit nominations for best director, and so on.

Nominations for certain awards, like for best foreign language film and best animated feature, are chosen by special committees. The entire membership votes to choose the nominees for best picture.

How are the winners chosen?

All voting members choose the winners. In 23 of 24 categories, the person with the most votes is the winner. But when it comes to the coveted best picture award, the Oscar voters have since 2009 used a complicated preferential ballot system in which they rank the films from most favorite to least favorite.

Anywhere from five to 10 nominees can be chosen: this year, eight films are in contention. If one film garners more than 50 percent of the vote outright, it automatically wins.

Otherwise, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers uses an instant-runoff voting system that ensures that the film that enjoys the widest consensus among Academy voters wins.

That means the count begins by eliminating the film that received the lowest number of first-place votes and redistributing those ballots to those voters' second choice.

The process of elimination continues until there is one film left with more than 50 percent of the vote. "The idea of the preferential ballot is to reflect the wishes of the greatest number of voters," explained Ric Robertson, who was the Academy's chief operating officer in 2009 when the process changed.

"Otherwise you might end up with a movie that, say, 25 percent of the people love and the rest can't stand," he told the Los Angeles Times.

"This way, hopefully, you have a winner that most people can live with."

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