When the accountants start tallying up the votes on Feb. 23, they will treat the Best Picture ballots differently than those in the other 23 categories.
While all the other awards are decided by a mere plurality (i.e., whoever gets the most votes among the nominees wins), the Best Picture champ will be determined by an instant run-off. The Academy instituted this change in counting two years ago when it went to 10 Best Picture nominees.
This year, each voter has been asked to rank the nine Best Picture contenders. The accountants will separate out the ballots according to the #1 votes. If a film has more than 50% of the votes, it will win Best Picture.
However, if no film has reached this threshold, the accountants will take the ballots for the nominee with the fewest #1 votes and redistributes them to the second choice on each. This process will continue until one film has more than half the ballots. If the counting goes down to the wire, the winner will be the film that was ranked higher on more ballots than its rival.
Compare that to the other races where voters list just one of the nominees and the winner is the contender with the most votes. Thus, it is possible to win an Oscar by being the choice of just over one-fifth of the voters.
This whole process takes three days and approximately 1,700 person hours of counting and double-checking. Only then are the envelopes with the winners’ names readied for their trip to the Kodak Theater.