The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Fidalgo, communications director -
Rob Richie, executive director -

Motion Picture Academy Adopts Instant Runoff Voting for Best Picture

Decision Highlights How Reform Backed by Obama and McCain Can Improve Real World Elections


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announced this week that
it will use instant runoff voting to choose its honoree for Best
Picture, ensuring that the most celebrated movie of the year is one
with strong support among Academy members. Used by the Academy in Best
Picture voting before 1945, which was the last time ten pictures were
nominated, instant runoff voting
(IRV) is a system in which voters rank their preferences in order of
choice. The nominee with the fewest votes is eliminated, and ballots
cast for that film are moved to voter's next choice among the remaining
films. The process continues until one film has more than half the
votes and is declared Best Picture of the Year.

Recommended by Robert's Rules of Order for elections when voters can't
gather together in person, IRV (also called "preferential voting") is
used by organizations with tens of thousands of members like the
American Association of University Women, American Chemical Society,
American Medical Student Association, American Mensa, and the American
Political Science Association. At least 51 colleges and universities
use IRV for student elections, including UCLA, the University of
Oklahoma, Harvard and Stanford. More than a dozen cities have adopted
IRV for election to their top offices, including Memphis (TN),
Minneapolis (MN), Oakland (CA) and San Francisco (CA). In 2002,
President Barack Obama was the prime sponsor of pro-IRV legislation in
Illinois, and Sen. John McCain backed a pro-IRV ballot measure.

Academy voters already appreciate the value of ranking candidates.
Since the 1930s, the Academy has used the choice voting method of
proportional voting to nominate best picture and most other categories.
With choice voting, Academy members rank candidates just as with IRV,
but it takes about a fifth of the vote to secure one of five
nominations. Choice voting ensures that nearly all Academy members help
nominate at least one nominee for best picture and other categories.

Earlier this year, the Academy announced that it would expand the Best
Picture category from five to 10 nominees. Given that the nomination
threshold will now be about a tenth of the vote, keeping the
"first-past-the-post" voting system where voters can indicate a
preference for just one choice would theoretically allow a film to take
home the Oscar despite being potentially disliked by 89%. With IRV in
place, the Best Picture winner is sure to be preferred by a large share
of Academy members. This demonstrates how IRV improves single-seat
political elections when more than two candidates run--because voters
can rank their choices on their ballots, third party and independent
candidates are no longer potential "spoilers," and no one takes office
with small pluralities, but are far more likely to be the consensus
choice of the majority.

"It's encouraging to see the Motion Picture Academy wisely adopt
instant runoff voting," said Rob Richie, executive director of
FairVote, a nonpartisan election reform organization that supports IRV.
"It serves as another example of how IRV can not only improve how we
pick our favorite movies, but how we can have more meaningful choices
for leaders and representatives in our elections for public office."

FairVote acts to transform our elections to achieve universal access to participation, a full spectrum of meaningful ballot choices and majority rule with fair representation for all. As a catalyst for change, we build support for innovative strategies to win a constitutionally protected right to vote, universal voter registration, a national popular vote for president, instant runoff voting and proportional representation.