The 2022 Oscar nominations round of voting in 15 races ends on Feb. 1 after just six days of voting. Nominations for the 94th Academy Awards will be announced on Feb. 8. The contenders in acting, directing, writing and the craft categories (except makeup/hairstyling and visual effects) will be selected under the preferential system that has been in place for years. To illustrate how this method of ballot counting works, let’s apply it to last year’s Best Actress race.
Between our experts (journalists who cover this beat year-round), website editors and readers like you, we cast 8.157 nomination ballots for Best Actress. (By comparison, the actors branch of the academy had 1,363 members last year.) As per the preferential system, we sorted these ballots by first choice and only those women listed at the top of at least one ballot continued on in the process.
There are five nominees for Best Actress. In our scenario, the initial threshold — i.e., magic number — for a nomination was set at 1,360 votes (i.e., 8.157 divided by 6 and rounded up). If each of five women reaches this cut-off, they will account for 6,800 votes, making it mathematically impossible for a sixth actress to get more than 1,357 votes.
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) had 4,957 first-place votes and earned a bid (as she did in the actual nominations). Usually, these ballots would be set to one side at this point.
However, this newly minted nominee was so popular that she reaped at least 20% more first place votes than needed to be nominated — in our scenario that is 1,632 — thus triggering the surplus rule (Best Picture balloting invokes the surplus rule with a 10% excess). The rationale for this rule is to ensure that someone can vote for a hugely popular contender without fear that their ballot doesn’t matter.
When this happens, the ballots for this nominee are apportioned as follows: a share goes to the nominee such that they reach the needed number for a nomination and the remaining share goes to the contender below them on the ballot who is still in the running and not yet nominated.
Mulligan only needed 1,360 first-place votes to reach the initial threshold so each of her 4,957 votes is apportioned with .274 of the vote staying with her and .726 going to the actress listed in second place, assuming she got at least one first-place vote from someone to remain eligible and is not already deemed to be a nominee. Those fractional votes are the equivalent of 3,597 ballots in all.
Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) had 1,386 first-place votes. As with Mulligan, that haul triggered the surplus rule, with a split of .981 for McDormand and .019 for the second-place choice.
And so ends round one with two of the five slots filled.
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Before beginning round two, a new second threshold needs to be calculated based on the ballots remaining in the process and the number of nominees still left to be determined.
We started with 8,157 ballots and have removed 6,343 [4,957 (Mulligan) + 1,386 (McDormand)] leaving 1,814.
As there are three spots left, we divide these 1,814 ballots by four and round up giving us a new second threshold of 454. If three actresses each got this many votes they would account for 1,362 votes, leaving only 452 in play.
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) had 1,221 votes initially and would have become the third nominee at this stage.
Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) came into this round with 253 first-place votes. Perhaps she received enough of the fractional votes from the surplus rule applied to those ballots listing Mulligan and McDormand first to reach this new threshold to become the fourth nominee, as she was in actuality.
Before beginning round three, a new third threshold is calculated. We remove Davis’ 1,221 ballots and Kirby’s 253 from the 1,814 that were used in round two, leaving a new total of 340. With one spot left, we divide that by two and round up for a new third threshold of 171. If one actress achieves this, there will only be 169 votes in play.
At this point, the accountants redistribute the ballots of the actress with the fewest first-place votes to the next actress further down on the ballot who is still in search of a nomination. The accountants look on each of these ballots for the next highest-ranked actress still in the running. This will be done with the ballots of each actress who has the least first-place votes until someone reaches the new threshold of 171.
The eventual fifth nominee was Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”), who started with 168 votes.
While the Best Picture champ is determined by a version of this preferential system, the winners of the other races are those that top the popular vote — i.e, a voter chooses just one of the nominees and the Oscar goes to the that nominee with the most votes.
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