Want to Know How Oscar Voting Works? Participate in This Poll (Exclusive)

Pick your favorites from the last 10 years of Best Picture winners to help demonstrate the Academy’s preferential voting system

10 Best Picture Winners
Clockwise from top left: 'The Artist,' 'Argo,' '12 Years a Slave,' 'Birdman.' 'Spotlight.' 'Moonlight,' 'The Shape of Water,' 'Green Book,' 'Parasite,' 'Nomadland'

Every year, TheWrap tries to explain how the Oscars’ ranked-choice or preferential voting system works to determine the winner in the Best Picture category.

This year, you can help.

In an exclusive collaboration with FairVote, a leading nonpartisan organization that works for voting reform to make elections “more functional and representative,” we’re inviting all of TheWrap’s readers to take part in a poll featuring the last 10 Best Picture winners.

Just as this year’s Oscar voters are doing with this year’s nominees beginning Thursday, the poll’s participants are asked to rank the 10 past winners in order of preference. Then the ranked choice voting (RCV) system will be used to determine which of the films has the broadest across-the-board support, just as the Academy’s accounting firm of PwC will do with Oscar ballots.

The 10 films are, in chronological order, “The Artist,” “Argo,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Spotlight,” “Moonlight,” “Birdman,” “The Shape of Water,” “Green Book,” “Parasite” and “Nomadland.”

The poll is now open here.

Early next week, we will reveal the results and explain in detail how the process worked to arrive at those results.

The ranked-choice system has long been used in the nomination round of Oscar voting, but it was extended to the final Best Picture vote after the category expanded from five to 10 nominees in 2010. The move was made to prevent a film from winning with only, say, 12-15% of the vote; rather than simply counting No. 1 votes, the system uses a voter’s rankings to determine which nominee has the most widespread support.

In order to prevail in a single-winner election under RCV, a film must receive more than 50% of the vote. But while voters are asked to list all the nominees in order of preference, the vote initially goes only to the film ranked first on each ballot. If no film has more than 50% of the first-place votes after all the ballots are counted (a situation that is likely, since an out-of-the-box majority would be unusual with 10 nominees), then the film with the fewest No. 1 votes is eliminated, and all of its votes go to the film ranked second on those ballots.

The count can continue for multiple rounds, with the last-place film eliminated in each new round and its votes redistributed to the highest-ranked film that’s still in the running on each ballot. Eventually, one film will pass the 50% majority and be declared the winner.

So if you’re a fan of, say, “Parasite,” it’s time to cast your ballot for Bong Joon Ho’s film in this poll. If you long for the happier days a decade ago, go for “The Artist” or “Argo.” Or vote for “Moonlight” – we promise that if it wins, we’ll announce that win correctly.

And I’ll say the same thing to voters in this poll that I say to Oscar voters: Please don’t think that you’re helping your No. 1 choice if you leave all your other choices blank. The ranked-choice system is designed to give every voter a voice regardless of whether their first choice wins, and you should take advantage of that by ranking all the films. (After you’ve put your favorite at No. 1, nothing else you do will hurt its chances of winning. Period.)  

FairVote, by the way, has been advocating for ranked choice voting as a way to hold more representative elections since 1992, and its president and CEO, Rob Richie, has been a key source for TheWrap as we’ve covered the Oscars’ voting system, which the Academy refers to as preferential voting.

Once rare in political elections, that system has been growing in popularity in recent years, and is now used in 31 states for federal, state or local elections.