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Academy Partners with Everyone Counts for 2013 Electronic Oscar Ballots

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood January 25, 2012 at 10:11PM

The 2013 Academy Awards are already making news, with the Academy announcing today that it has partnered with Everyone Counts to develop an electronic voting system for next year's Oscars.
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Many Oscars

The Academy will mail final ballots for the 84th Awards on February 1 to 5,783 voting members. The completed ballots are due at 5 PM February 21. Most members--whether in London, New York or Borneo--will anxiously mail their ballots or, if they are in Los Angeles, walk them into PricewaterhouseCooper's offices. After tabulating the votes, PricewaterhouseCoopers will place winners’ names in the sealed envelopes that are opened on the Oscar show February 26.

This seems positively archaic in the digital age. Why can't Academy voting take place online? The Broadcast Film Critics, the Canadian Genies, BAFTA and others do it that way. Academy president Tom Sherak told TOH last year that the Academy starting considering electronic ballots because they wanted to move up the Awards date: online voting was a prerequisite of making that happen.

But Sherak was afraid that the Oscars offered a fat juicy target. "I've yet to be convinced that you couldn't find someone to hack into it," he said. "Nobody has said to me, 'you can't get in.' The Academy is as pure as the driven snow." Until Sherak was convinced that no one could influence the voting by hacking into an online voting system, he was sticking with paper ballots, he said. "They can hack into the Pentagon!" he says. "The chances of getting online ballots are slim to none."

Well, what a difference a year and new Academy chief Dawn Hudson makes. The 2013 Academy Awards are already making news, with the Academy announcing that is partnering with Everyone Counts to develop an electronic voting system for next year's Oscars.  PwC, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating and authenticating the Academy's votes will continue to do so, but for the first time, Academy members will not receive a paper ballot next year to cast their votes.

The Academy first informed its voters last May that it would be transitioning to a vote-by-email platform.  In that letter, the Academy asked its members to provide an email address that did not go through an assistant and informed them that once the system was up, they would receive only an electronic ballot at that address.  In July of 2011, Deadline's Pete Hammond reported that an impressive 83 percent of the Academy had responded to the request for private email addresses.

From the start, there have been concerns about electronic Oscar voting, not only in terms of the security of an online ballot, but also whether all Academy members would be tech-savvy enough to utilize the new system. 

Many of the other guild awards already use electronic voting with few or no problems.  Of course, the Oscars are the highest profile awards show, and thus the most vulnerable to hackers or pranksters looking to make a mark.  The Academy selected Everyone Counts for its online voting in part because of its security practices, which include the use of military-grade encryption.  

This decision to change the voting system is an inevitable part of the larger plan to move the Oscars to late January.  That date change would pose numerous challenges, among them the issue of getting ballots to and from voters in a much shorter window of time than the one provided by the current system.  If the Oscars moved forward in the awards season, there could be quite a shake-up with the other guilds.  For now though, they'll have until 2013 to figure it out.

This article is related to: Oscars, Online


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.