The Oscars Go Digital — Finally — With Online Voting

Move brings Academy voters into the 21st century and could clear path to shift the awards show earlier. It takes effect next year

Online Oscar balloting has arrived, at long last.

The tradition-bound Academy announced on Wednesday that it has partnered with the election expert Everyone Counts to develop a system for what it is calling "electronic" voting.

EveryonOscar ballotse else would probably call it online voting, since that's where the voting will take place. The system will be ready in time for next year's Academy Awards.

"This is the first of many steps that we'll be taking toward developing a secure and convenient electronic voting system, beginning with next year's ballot," said Academy Chief Operating Officer Ric Robertson. "We're excited to have found great partners in the people who do this best."

Everyone Counts has worked in election administration and computer security for clients that include the states of Oregon, Florida and Washington and the U.S. Department of Defense. It will work with the Academy's longtime accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to develop the system.

In the past, Oscar voting has always been done on paper ballots sent through the U.S. mail. Tabulating those ballots has been done by hand by small teams of PwC accountants, and the results kept on paper in secured locations, rather than in computers whose security might potentially be compromised.

In May, the Academy sent a letter to its members asking for email addresses that would go directly to the members rather than being routed through assistants. It said the addresses would be used to implement an electronic voting system, adding, "once the system is up and running, mailed ballots will be eliminated."

At the time, many were skeptical that some older Academy members would be tech-savvy enough to adjust to a new system — and AMPAS president Tom Sherak admitted that he was uncertain as well.

"We are trying to figure out how to take that voting process and do it electronically," he told TheWrap. "I'm still from the old school, but there could be a way."

Three years ago, during her tenure as executive director of Film Independent, current Academy CEO Dawn Hudson explored the idea of using electronic voting for the Spirit Awards, but concluded that at the time it could not be done securely.

Online voting as a way of speeding up the process has always been considered a prerequisite before the Academy could move the date of the Oscars to earlier in the year.

Another necessity would be finding a way to allow voters to see the eligible movies more easily, most likely through online streaming. One member of the Board of Governors recently told TheWrap that streaming will likely be in place later this year.

The AMPAS press release:

Beverly Hills, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has entered into an agreement with Everyone Counts Inc. to exclusively develop an electronic voting system for the 85th Academy Awards®, to be held in 2013.

Everyone Counts will work with PwC, the Academy's accounting firm of record, whose role in tabulating Academy members' votes will remain unchanged. Over the next year, the Academy will undertake a rigorous security and user-acceptance testing process.

"This is the first of many steps that we'll be taking toward developing a secure and convenient electronic voting system, beginning with next year's ballot," said Academy Chief Operating Officer Ric Robertson. "We're excited to have found great partners in the people who do this best."

The selection of Everyone Counts is the result of an 18-month search conducted by the Academy. The company is internationally recognized for its expertise in election administration and computer security and its voting platform is a global leader in the election industry. Built into its technology and processes are multiple layers of security that include military-grade encryption techniques. The company's other clients include the United States Department of Defense; the United Kingdom's Ministry of Justice; the state of New South Wales, Australia; and the states of Oregon, Florida, and Washington.

"We are honored to have earned the trust of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in bringing online voting to the Oscars starting next year," said Lori Steele, Chairman and CEO of Everyone Counts Inc. "Our company was founded to set a new standard of security, accessibility, and transparency in elections. We're proud to be working with the Academy, an organization that also represents the highest standards in its field."

"We look forward to working with Everyone Counts for next year's 85th Academy Awards and beyond," said Brad Oltmanns, balloting leader, PwC. "We are excited about the new electronic voting system, which will enable us to conduct the tabulation process with the same high level of precision, trust and integrity that we have for the past 78 years."