The Mechanics of Voting in the Oscars

Who votes?

The Oscars are voted for by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As of 2018, the Academy has over 6,600 members. Each member belongs to a particular branch of the Academy, such as the directors branch or the actors branch, and members can only be in one branch at a time. Eligibility is based on the length of career or number of projects, or alternatively, someone can be sponsored to join by two active members of the academy. In an effort to increase diversity among voters, over 700 people were inducted into the Academy last year, but the voting base is still overwhelming white and male. Irish members include Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Bono.

Who counts the votes?

PwC accountants have the colossal task of counting the nomination ballots, calculating the nominees and counting the winning votes. These accountants spend an estimated 170 hours counting the votes.

How does a film get nominated?

In December, Academy members cast their nomination ballots. Members can only nominate within their own branch, for example, only directors can nominate for the best director category. All branches can nominate candidates for Best Picture.

For a film to be nominated, it must pass a number of requirements, such as being longer than 40 mins, having been screened in LA for at least seven days and being released before the end of year deadline.

Nominees are calculated using the same system of proportional representation that is used in Irish general elections. PwC divide the total number of ballots received for a particular category by the number of possible nominee positions plus one in order to establish the number of votes that a film will need to be officially nominated in that category. Voters list their top five preference and all first preferences are counted, the film with the least first preference votes is eliminated and it’s ballots are recounted and given to their second preference film. This process is continued until enough films get more than the necessary amount of votes to become an official nominee and all the nomination positions are filled.

How are the winners decided?

In February, the nominees are announced and members cast their final ballots. There is one vote per member per category. Members may vote in all categories, regardless of which branch they belong to, though members are discouraged from voting in categories that they have little knowledge about.

The selection of the Best Picture is different to all other categories. Instead of having one vote per member as with all other categories, to select the Best Picture the voters rank their favourite films by preference, in the same way that they do on the nomination ballots. This method is thought to result in the most widely liked film winning the Oscar. For example, a divisive film like Three Billboards, Outside Ebbing, Missouri might be number one on one members ballot and last place on another members ballot, but if these members both have The Shape of Water around their second or third position, it stands a much better chance of winning.


Muireann O’Shea – Film Editor

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