The process of selecting Best Picture winner at the Oscars is not as simple as you think. It was a simple process some eight years back when the winners were selected using a normal balloting i.e. the film that gets the most number of votes among the nominees wins Best Picture. In fact, the winners in all the other categories are still picked using the normal balloting — basically, voters check off their picks and in the end, the nominee with most number of votes in each category wins. But picking a Best Picture winner is a completely different animal all together.
In 2009, the Academy announced a new method of selecting Best Picture winner: preferential balloting or what is also referred to as Instant Runoff Voting. This method was introduced in order to select a more consensus choice as Best Picture winner and also to avoid a scenario where a split of votes between the two top contenders leads to a winner with relatively less support.
So what is this Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) method exactly ?
Let’s try to understand it step by step.
During the process of voting, Academy voters rank the nominated movies in order of preference on their ballot: first, second, third and so on. The first choices in all the ballots are counted. If any movie manages to receive 50% plus one votes, that movie is declared the winner. If not, the movie in last place — that is the one with the fewest number of first choice ranking — is eliminated, and the second-place choices on those ballots are instead counted as first-place votes. The process of counting first choices is repeated again and if any movie gets 50% plus one vote, that movie wins. If not, the movie with the fewest number of votes is again eliminated, and the process of redistribution happens — if the movie ranked next has been eliminated, then the ballot counts for the movie ranked 3rd, and so forth. This whole process of eliminating movies and redistributing ballots continues until one movie wins by securing 50% plus one votes.
I know it is difficult to understand, especially, if you are not familiar with this process. So, let’s make your life easy and explain this process using an example.