The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have been grandly celebrating the best of cinema by honoring excellence and achievements in the American and international film industry through the Academy Awards that are presented annually for over nine decades now. AMPAS, with a voting membership of more than 7,000, follows a systematic and strict online voting procedure starting from determining the nominees in different categories to selecting ultimate winners from each. The auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers processes and tabulates the votes of members at all stages and the final results are kept in sealed envelopes to maintain secrecy until winners are called onstage on the day of the ceremony to receive their awards in this oldest entertainment awards event that is awaited with much interest and enthusiasm by both film professionals and movie lovers.
Only members of the AMPAS which includes professionals from different sections of the film industry representing their corresponding sections are eligible to nominate and vote for candidates. For the 1st Academy Awards ceremony held in 1929, candidates for each category were nominated by all the members of the organization following which five boards of judges, with one board each from the original five branches of motion picture, that is actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians, selected ten nominees who received maximum votes in each category. Thereafter three candidates were selected from ten for final nomination in each category. Finally winner in each category was selected by a central board of judges that included a member from every branch.
Since the 2nd award ceremony, over the years the organization has made several changes in rules including voting rules to keep up with the ever evolving film industry. In May 2011, AMPAS mailed its voting members informing about an electronic system for voting that would be put into effect starting with the 85th Academy Awards ceremony in 2013. In January 2012, it announced that the online voting system would be developed as an alternative procedure by which the voting members can choose nominees and winners. The system is said to have been created to increase participation of voting members and as a second option in case of emergency.
Presently AMPAS conducts an online voting process that starts in December with the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers sending ballots along with names of eligible nominees to the voting members through mail. Members of a particular branch select nominees from their branch only, which means only actors can vote for nominating actors, directors can vote for nominating directors, and so on. This is followed for most of the categories while for the Best Picture category, nominees are selected by all voting members.
AMPAS uses a form of the single transferable vote (STV) system to select nominees within each major category. It mentioned that complex computation methods of STV would make it hard for a voter to influence or manipulate results and this aspect led the organization to choose this system as part of its process of allocating the awards. Under this process, a member casts vote in the form of a ranked-choice ballot that is rank preferentially up to five nominees (ten in case of Best Picture category). From 2013 AMPAS uses re-weighted score voting system for choosing nominees for the Best Visual Effects. Nominees for some categories like International Feature Film and Animated Feature are chosen by special screening committees composed of members from all sections. As per rules, the voters must return their secret ballots directly to PricewaterhouseCoopers within two weeks so that votes can be tabulated by the firm. Nomination results were made public by AMPAS in early February till 2003 following which it announced the results in mid-January till 2020, in March in 2021 and again in early February in 2022.
After the nominees are finalized, all members vote to determine winners in most categories. The electoral system of plurality voting is applied in this stage, that is the one among the nominees in a category who receives a plurality or relative majority becomes winner in that category. Starting from 2009, AMPAS applies Instant-runoff voting (IRV), which also uses preferential voting system, to choose the Best Picture winner. PricewaterhouseCoopers tabulates the votes at this stage as well to determine the winners. Only two persons of the firm know the final results which are kept in sealed envelopes only to be revealed during the ceremony. The auditing firm and its predecessor Price Waterhouse have been tallying and certifying the votes from 1935, starting from the 7th Academy Awards.
Millions of dollars are spent by film companies on For Your Consideration advertising that are particularly targeted towards voting members. The ads are given when films of these companies are nominated in the Best Picture category so that chances of their films winning the category or in other categories presented during the Oscar season increase. To put a restriction on excessive campaigning by the members, AMPAS has come up with stricter rules and vested power and responsibility on its awards czar for advising its members on actions that are permitted and imposing penalties on those who break rules.
Voting membership of AMPAS which as of 2018 is more than 7,000 includes 1,311 actors, marking this section as the majority (22%) of total composition. The Board of Governors should invite all members of the AMPAS. Every year, suggestions for new membership are put forward for consideration. Membership of the organization has strikingly increased over the years and although AMPAS refrain from revealing its membership details publicly, press releases made in 2007 disclosed names of individuals who were requested to become members.
In 2019, while the Academy in-person screenings and DVD screeners facilities were still available, AMPAS introduced the secure streaming platform Academy Digital Screening Room so that its voting members can watch online all films that are eligible for the next Academy Awards, barring initially the ones that fall under the International category. Accessed through Apple TV and Roku players, the platform became the only place where the members can officially view the nominated films as AMPAS prohibited in-person screenings as well as all physical screeners in 2021. It is believed that AMPAS has put an end to in-person screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.