Academy Explains How Electronic Oscar Voting Will Work

Ric Robertson Headshot - P 2012
Getty Images

Ric Robertson Headshot - P 2012

This year, for the first time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will offer its members the option of electronic voting rather than the traditional paper ballot. And while it doesn’t yet know how many of its members will vote via their computers as the new system is phased in, Academy COO Ric Robertson said, “Our goal is that the majority of voters embrace the electronic option.”

While the Academy is not publicly revealing what level of participation it would consider a success, Robertson said Tuesday, in the wake of the Academy’s official announcement that it is finally going electronic after several years of discussions, that “this is clearly a transitional year, but we want to encourage as much voter participation as possible. We will make a number of options available, but we want to encourage electronic voting. We think it will be more convenient for those who are out of town, whether working or on vacation. But at the same time, we don’t want to disenfranchise anyone.”

STORY: Academy Sets Key Dates for 85th Oscars

To push the electronic option, Robertson explained, the Academy first plans to communicate with its members how the electronic voting will work and what its advantages are. It will then follow up with a second explanation of other options, and any members wary of going electronic can then request a paper ballot. For those ready to make the electronic transition, Robertson said, “there will be a registration process with all the appropriate security checkpoints.”

To further assist members in the transition, the Academy will set up voting stations at its headquarters in Beverly Hills as well as its Pickford Center in Hollywood as well as at locations in New York and London. During voting periods, it will also offer a 24-hour telephone help line.

During the pre-nomination process, when several branches are whittling down their shortlists, paper ballots will continue to be used in eight categories: animated feature film, animated short film, live action short film, documentary feature, documentary short subject, foreign language film, makeup/hairstyling and visual effects. But in all other categories – as well as for best picture nominations – electronic voting will be available for both the nominating phase and the final balloting.

PHOTOS: 15 Oscar Icons Remember the Night That Changed Their Lives Forever

The Academy has spent more than a year developing the new system with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Everyone Counts. The look of the electronic ballot “will be pretty similar to the paper ballot and will not be overly complicated,” Robertson promised. In categories like best picture, where voters have traditionally written in the name of their chosen films, once they type in the first few letters of a given film title, the system is designed to auto-fill the complete title.

“It’s a big project for us, since we’ve been using the same process for 84 years,” Robertson acknowledged. “We’re trying to be very thoughtful about the twin concerns of convenience and security. We’ve had members in for a number of focus groups to test-drive the system as we’ve been developing it. They’ve given us feedback that’s been very helpful. It’s a project that incorporates technology, human psychology and social engineering.”

Academy officials have been eager to move to electronic balloting for several reasons. For one, it will free them from depending on the vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service: In 2000, for example, 4,000 ballots that the Academy sent to its members temporarily went missing. It also will make it easier for members of the increasingly international Academy, who are not in Los Angeles, to ensure that their ballots are received in time.

PHOTOS: The Academy Class of 2012 Breakdown: From the Expected (Recent Oscar Winners) to the Surprising (TV Stars? Stephen King?)

Additionally, it will allow the Academy greater flexibility in scheduling dates, since accounting firm PwC will not need as much time to compile the voting results as was needed with full paper balloting. That was underscored by the fact that the Academy also announced today that it is moving up its nominations announcement to Jan. 10, five days earlier than had been previously announced. With nominations ballots due Jan. 3, PwC will have just six days to compile the results instead of the usual ten days.

“We like the flexibility of moving the nominations up a few days to allow our members and the public more time to see the nominated films,” Robertson said.