How ranked choice voting leads to fair representation in Oscar nominations

Posted by on February 16, 2018 at 4:32 PM

By Rob Richie, FairVote. Reposted from

Ranked choice voting is notable for how often it’s used to elect political leaders. The fair representation form of it -- as proposed nationally for congressional elections in the Fair Representation Act (HR 3057) -- is used for at least one election in which every voter can vote in Australia, Cambridge, Mass., Ireland, Malta, Minneapolis, Minn., New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. And just this month, it’s been used to nominate potential Oscar winners nearly every major category of the Academy Awards, as announced yesterday.

We’ve written a lot about the Oscars use of RCV over the years -- both in the nominations and in the final vote for Best Picture, where there are nine nominees this year. Best Picture uses a variation of ranked choice voting that puts a particular premium on first choice support with a formula that can nominate between five and 10 nominees. All the other major categories use the usual fair representation form of ranked choice voting (also called “single transferable vote") where voters rank candidates, and it takes about 17 percent strong support to earn a nomination, with about 85 percent of Academy voters helping to nominate someone in their category (actors vote for actors, directors vote for directors, cinematographers vote for cinematographers, etc.). The result is that nearly every voter has a real stake in the final vote on Oscar night.

As the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday discusses today, the nominees reflect “an industry and art form in the mist of profound, sometimes confounding change, even while clinging to their most hidebound habits and tastes.” In the wake of the “OscarsSoWhite” controversy, the Academy has added more youth and diversity to Academy members with voting rights, and in a fair representation system, that means nominees that fairly reflect both traditional Academy voters and newer ones. So for “best director,” we see a nomination for two first-time directors, Jordan Peele for his bold “Get Out” and first-time director Greta Gerwig for her deeply personal “Lady Bird’ - with Peele being the fifth-ever African American director to be nominated and Gerwig the fifth woman. At the same time, nominees include more experienced directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and Guillermo del Toro.

You can see such patterns through -- a representative result. It’s fun to think about Academy voters, famous and non-famous alike, ranking their choices without worry about “spoilers” and ending up with nominees that will make the Academy Awards another fun evening. There, nearly every category will be decided by plurality, as the Academy has chosen to reward the “passion” vote of who can get the most first choices.

But for Best Picture, it wisely has chosen to use ranked choice voting. A New York Times online survey on the nominees shows why: with more than 28,000 online votes, no film has more than 19 percent. Stay tuned for Rank the Oscars, a chance to vote for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography using our site which allows you to create your own ranked choice voting polls. You’ll be able to rank your choices for Best Picture, just as the likes of Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington and Steven Spielberg.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are strictly those of the author and do not represent the views of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, the Bridge Alliance, or the Bridge Alliance’s member organizations. Additionally, the Bridge Alliance Education Fund makes no representations as to the accuracy of this post’s contents.