Press Release: February 10, 1998
Academy members rank choices and almost all voters help nominate one;
Choice Voting also used in Ireland, Australia and Cambridge (MA)
The Oscar nominations announced today were selected by a form of proportional representation -- a system similar to how most legislative bodies in mature democracies are elected, as opposed to the "winner-take-all" election system used in most public election in the United States.
The "choice voting" system of proportional representation has been used since the 1930s, when a Price Waterhouse study for the Academy of Motion Pictures determined that the system was the one most likely to produce slates of nominees that reflect the opinions of the Academy's various branches of artists.
Rob Richie, executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy, notes that "For best picture, with choice voting we once again see a range of films with strong support among different members of the Academy -- from the Titanic to the Full Monty. Rather than nomination of just art films or just box office winners -- which might be the case if using the plurality, winner-take-all voting system used in most U.S. elections -- the nominees reflected the views of both Academy voters in the majority and the minority."
In choice voting, voters maximize voting power through ranking candidates. Voters simply put a "1" by their first choice, a "2" by their second choice and so on. Voters can rank as many candidates as they wish because a lower choice will not hurt a higher choice. In the Oscar nomination voting, it takes the strong support of about 20% of voters in any particular category to assure nomination.
Richie noted that concerns about low number of nominees from racial and ethnic minorities cannot be answered by even a proportional system. "Given that the percentage of black members of the Academy is approximately 5%, any racial bias among voters could not be resolved by a proportional system. The problem also seems to be more deeply rooted in the number of prominent movie roles and production assignments offered to racial minorities."
Choice voting is used for national elections in Ireland, Senate elections in Australia and local elections in Cambridge (MA). It was used for city council elections in New York in the LaGuardia era, in Cincinnati from 1925-1955 and in 21 other U.S. cities, but fell victim to anti-reform forces who successfully targeted unpopular minorities. In 1991 in Cincinnati and in 1996 in San Francisco, some 45% of voters supported adoption of choice voting for city elections.
These initiatives reflect a resurgence of interest in choice voting and proportional representation. "The Academy's use of choice voting is indicative of its fundamental fairness," comments Richie. "Price Waterhouse's recommendation should extend to most other legislative elections in the United States."
For more information, please contact the Center at (301) 270-4616. The Center is the nation's leading clearinghouse of information on voting systems that promote higher voter participation and fairer representation.
2001 briefing for entertainment press on Academy's proportional nomination system