Oscar mystery solved: How ballots are counted for Best Picture

Now that we know the eight films in contention for Best Picture at the Oscars, it is time for a refresher course in how the winner will be decided. Don’t worry, it is nowhere near as complicated as the nominations balloting for this top race, which involves surplus votes and partial reallocations. 

Unlike the outcomes of the other categories which are determined by popular vote — i.e, a voter picks just one of the nominees and the Oscar goes to that contender with the most votes — the winner of Best Picture is arrived at by modified version of the prefential voting that determined the nominees in those other races. 

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This method of preferential voting for the final Best Picture ballot was reintroduced in 2009, when the academy went to 10 nominees in this category for the first time since 1943. It was kept in place in 2010 when the number of nominees shifted to somewhere between five and 10. The academy believes this “best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.”

The preferential method was first used in 1934 when there were 12 Best Picture nominees (there had been between three and 10 in the first six years of the Academy Awards) and was used the following year when there were again 12 nominees, from 1936 to 1943 when there were 10 nominees, and in both 1944 and 1945 when there were just five contenders. 

This year, voters will rank the eight Best Picture nominees. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place votes, it will win Best Picture.

If, as is more likely, no nominee reaches this threshold, the film with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, with its ballots being reapportioned to the second-place choice. 

Should no film cross the required 50% + one ballot threshold, the film with the fewest first-place votes is again eliminated, with its ballots being apportioned to the next choice still in play (i.e., if the second-place choice is no longer in the running, then the ballot would be reapportioned to the third-place choice and so on.)

This process of elimination and reapportion continues until one film reaches at least 50% + one ballots. That is the Best Picture winner.  

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Best Picture graphic: AMPAS

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