The ballots for the 84th Academy Awards were mailed out yesterday. Around 6,000 members will receive their ballots where they will choose the nominations. This year there could be anywhere from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominees depending on how many voters choose a film to be their number 1 choice. The ballot counting is all done by hand. Variety did a decent job of trying to explain the process and how the votes are counted:

The first step for PwC tabulators is to determine the minimum number of first-place votes any given film would require to secure a nomination; they do this by dividing the maximum number of slots plus one, i.e., 11, by the total number of ballots returned.

Then the ballots are sorted into piles based the number of No. 1 votes each film receives. Any film that already has that minimum number of votes is automatically on the list of nominees.

“We actually are pushing a lot of paper,” Rosas said with a laugh.

Conversely, a film with less than 1% of the vote is eliminated, according to Academy rules. The eliminated films’ ballots are then reallocated based on the No. 2 choice, assuming it hasn’t already secured a slot. If a ballot’s second choice is already nominated, the tabulators keep going down the list to ensure that a vote gets counted toward a film that needs it.

Further complicating matters, the system is designed to avoid letting any single film end up with a preponderance of votes. For that reason, if any film at this stage has a surplus of votes, or 10% more than what is needed to secure a slot, the second choice on those ballots are reallocated at a reduced value.

“We will reallocate all of the ballots for the film to the second-place choice, assuming the second place film hasn’t otherwise been nominated,” Rosas explains.

There could be any number of films that have secured a slot at this point, but this is where the change for this year comes into play:

“At this particular juncture, we will then determine the 5% threshold of all the outstanding votes. Meaning, if I have 6,000 votes out there, we’re going to look and say, what’s 5% of 6,000? It’s 300. All those films with 300 or more votes will be nominated, unless I have more than 10. If we have at least five, but less than 10, we’re done,” Rosas explained.

The real salient question for voters is, Does it make sense to fill out all of the slots on the ballot? Will those votes be counted? The answer is: Well, it depends.

“If they pick two films that they just love, but they’re kind of in the weeds, and those films get eliminated in the 1% round, then I have nowhere else to allocate that vote. It depends on their taste in movies, and how well it matches the taste of the Academy overall. The preferential system’s always been geared in favor of those voters who fill out a complete ballot, and it’s still the case now,” Rosas said.

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