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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 11, 2010 at 3:49 PM

How that new Oscar tabulation system for Best Picture really works

Perhaps some of you have heard about the new procedure being used to tabulate the Best Picture winner at the Oscars this year: something that is known as a “preferential voting” system, rather than a system where they just count the votes and the one with the most wins. Here’s my attempt to explain how this works: The voters, all 5,777 of them, rank their Best Picture choices, 1 through 10. The accountants then take those rankings and make ten piles: the biggest being the one that got the most #1 votes; the smallest being the one that got the least. (These piles are presumably virtual, but I like to imagine that they’re real, and that, like in any good screwball comedy, some flunky will come along and sneeze and upset the piles, making the accountants start all over again.) That done, the smallest pile is discarded, and its #2 votes are redistributed to the other piles. Then the next-smallest pile is discarded, and the highest votes on those ballots are redistributed. And so forth, until one stack has more than 50 percent of the votes, or everybody collapses from exhaustion and has to be revived by George Clooney.
This makes about as much sense as “When in Rome,” but maybe some mathematician can help us out here. (Sorry, my math ability peaked in high school and has now faded away to nothing but a knack for instantly calculating the tip. Which is not helping me here.) Anyway, I think Mark Lisanti at Movieline explains it much better.

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