The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ brave new steps into electronic voting for Oscars after 84 years of the snail mail routine is proceeding well. Most members seem to be getting the message that they must register to vote, as well as pay dues, before they will be eligible when balloting officially begins on December 17th and runs through January 3rd. That is 10 days earlier than last year and smack in the middle of the holiday season so naturally the Academy was a little nervous when they decided to launch this process four months ago. But I’m told things are going smoothly and they have their fingers crossed it will continue that way. “The response has been really favorable. We are very encouraged,” Academy COO Ric Robertson told me this afternoon, adding that most members are going for the electronic voting option but that there have been a “small number” of requests so far for the old fashioned paper ballots. One member though who is working on a major Best Picture contender told me they have heard from numerous other members saying they were requesting a paper ballot (“although they were all 60 and above”). The Academy will provide paper ballots as long as Oscar voters make that request by this Friday November 30. If members desiring traditional paper ballots have not registered to vote and made their request by Friday, they will not be able to participate using that method. Think of it as registering to vote for President. After the cut-off date you’re out of luck. Electronic voting registration however will remain open throughout the entire process ending on January 3rd so there’s another clear advantage for the onliners.
The electronic option will be helpful for those traveling during the holiday season. “You won’t have to worry about that paper ballot sitting unclaimed in your mailbox while you are in Aspen this season. You can just go on to your iPad or whatever and vote from wherever you are. We are not just an L.A. based organization so this serves a global purpose for all our members as well our L.A. members who might be away for a good deal of time,” said Robertson.
The Academy has taken multiple steps to inform members of this change and these deadlines so that no one is disenfranchised. They have consistently emailed and snail-mailed reminders and have kiosks set up in Academy offices in Beverly Hills, New York and London to help members through the process.
I did receive a couple of phone calls from concerned members including one prominent industry mover and shaker who was worried that this new voting process is going to actually have the effect of depressing turnout and that some members just won’t get the message. “I think it could cut participation to as little as 50% particularly among older members,” the longtime Academy member told me. “I know people who aren’t paying attention to these emails and have no idea they have gotten the notice that they must register by the end of November in order to request a paper ballot. I did it only because I heard about it through happenstance.”
Robertson said they have had a few concerned calls, not many, including a member who said they hadn’t received a single email from the Academy in six months. “We looked into it and it turned out it was all going to his spam,” he said.
The initial email that went out to all Academy members was very detailed and even offered the option of paying dues online and registering. It included an attachment that offered a sample of just how to register for voting in case anyone was confused. I checked with several Academy members and couldn’t find one that wasn’t aware of this and had not already registered. “I thought it was very easy,” said one. Another told me they noticed all the signs around the Academy when they were at a screening. One older member said she was helped by “the kids who were at the desk”. The letter even gives members a number to call for help from the “Support Call Center” at 1-800-251-0185 from 8 AM to 7 PM Monday thru Friday. It ends by saying “if you are not able to participate in electronic voting, please notify the Support Call Center by November 30. We want to make sure you have options, and are able to vote”.
“We do not want anyone to suddenly discover on January 3rd that their ballot didn’t arrive in the mail,” said Robertson referring to any member who might still believe it is business as usual for Academy balloting this year. Nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards will be announced on January 10th.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned Academy members.