Oscar ballots were mailed to 5,783 Academy Members on Wednesday morning, in an odd but endearing ritual that may never again take place at the Academy.
With online voting scheduled to begin in time for the 85th Academy Awards next year, the ceremonial ballot-mailing – in which accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers pretend to sort trays of ballots and partners from the firm pretend to supervise the sorting, with the ballots then being loaded onto a U.S Postal Service truck – may well be replaced by something more private and not nearly as photogenic.
"That is the plan," Academy president Tom Sherak told TheWrap after the mailing. "But there's still stuff to be done."
The tricky part, he said, is that while more than 85 percent of Academy members have supplied AMPAS with email address to use for voting, others haven't.
"We know that a percentage of our constituency doesn't have a way to vote online," he said. "We're not going to leave them out, so we have to figure out a way where they can come in or we can get them ballots so they can vote. It's not like, 'Well, you don't have a computer so you’re not voting!'"
Academy COO Ric Robertson added that he is working on "a backup system" to accommodate members without email, and that he expects it to be in place for next year's voting.
In the meantime, the Academy and PwC went trotted out the paper-ballot ritual one more time. Watched over by security, the accountants wheeled 17 bins of ballots into the lobby of the Academy's Beverly Hills headquarters, and put six of the trays on a table where PwC staffers leafed through them as if they hadn't already been sorted.
PwC partners Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns (standing, in the photo above) presided over the process, which was carried out by three men and six women – all of them wearing dark suits, except for one woman who shockingly opted for a medium gray suit.
"We decided to really push the envelope this year," laughed Oltmanns of the gray suit.
After Rosas and Oltmanns did interviews and posed for photos with Sherak, they wheeled the ballots to the Academy's loading dock, loaded them onto a postal truck and sent them on their way.
Members have until February 21 to return the ballots of PwC's downtown headquarters, where they will be taken to a famously undisclosed location and counted by hand by a team of six, out of whom only Rosas and Oltmanns will know the winners.
Of course, online voting could change not only the ritual of mailing ballots, but the time-honored technique by which they're counted. After all, if the ballots are returned to PwC electronically, wouldn't it be easier to just push a button and get the results tallied by computer, rather than taking three days to count by hand?
"As you can appreciate," Rosas told TheWrap, "we're not discussing those kind of things at this point. And many of them have yet to be determined."
But online voting could change lots of the rituals associated with the Oscar ballots, right?
He smiled. "Yes, it could."
(AMPAS photo by Greg Harbaugh)