As Online Voting Begins, Oscars Take Extra Steps Not to Leave Voters Behind

Despite the move to electronic voting, the Academy will be mailing paper ballots to many voters, whether or not they've asked for them

The Academy opened online voting for the first time in his history on Monday. But in the days leading up to the unprecedented move away from paper ballots, AMPAS also took measures to make sure that chunks of its membership aren't left on the sidelines by the digital revolution.

"We're trying to enfranchise as many members as possible," AMPAS COO Ric Robertson told TheWrap.

Oscar ballotsMonths ago, the organization set up stations in the lobby of its Beverly Hills headquarters where members could register to vote electronically and also receive answers to questions about the process.

In November, the organization extended the deadline for voters to request paper ballots.

And in the week before that new Dec. 14 deadline, AMPAS took an extra step that essentially made that deadline irrelevant. Academy officials, worried about the number of members who hadn't chosen either option, decided to mail paper ballots to every one of its 5,856 members whose dues were current but who hadn't signed up for the online-voting option.

"If you've paid your dues and you haven't registered to vote electronically, we're going to send you a paper ballot whether or not you've asked for one," said Robertson.

That final decision by AMPAS officials, he said, will make the percentage of potential nominating voters commensurate with what it has been in prior years, when all voters whose dues were paid automatically received paper ballots.

"Between those who registered to vote electronically and those who are receiving paper ballots, we're at a number that is similar to what we've had in the past," he said.

As for the breakdown in this first year of online voting, Robertson said that "the majority of voting members" have registered to cast their votes by computer.

The move to online voting, he added, is particularly important this year, when the deadline to return nominating ballots is Jan. 3, two weeks earlier than usual.

"The voting period for nominations is essentially the holiday season," he said. "Whether you're vacationing in Hawaii or working in Mexico, it's now much easier to vote – and you don't have to worry about being out of town while your ballot is sitting in your mailbox back in West L.A."

Still, Robertson admits that not every AMPAS voter has embraced moving into the online age.

"We have some members who are not shy in any way about saying, 'I'm going to vote paper and I'm not changing,'" he said. "But I was really pleasantly surprised that the number of people who registered to vote electronically was higher than I anticipated."

Throughout the year, he added, the Academy has had focus groups with members to explain the online voting process. And though the Screen Actors Guild had its nominations leaked early last week through an error on its website, Robertson insists that the Academy is not worried.

"I am confident about it," he said. "We have taken extensive measures to make sure our system is secure and protected."

While in past years, PricewaterhouseCoopers partners have told TheWrap that a large number of members voted and returned their nominating ballots immediately after receiving them, Robertson said he doesn't expect a similar early rush this time.

"Most of our members are still trying to see the movies," he said. "I don't think too many people are going to be voting right away this year."