Here in the desert as the Palm Springs International Film Festival is ready for its annual gala tonight which will be honoring many Oscar hopefuls from Sally Field, Helen Mirren, Helen Hunt, Tom Hooper, Bradley Cooper, Naomi Watts and the cast of Argo among others, the real talk is about the process of actually trying to vote for those nominations. Despite Herculean efforts on the part of the Academy to make the move to online voting work smoothly for its members, not everything was going nearly as well as hoped, even as some high profile members tried to submit ballots in the final hours of voting Friday afternoon.
“I’m absolutely furious about this,” one industry mover and shaker phoned us to say shortly after 3 PM (with just two hours to go in the extended voting period) to ask what he could do after submitting his Academy-supplied password but being “locked out”. He did call the 24/7 Academy help support line but says he was put on hold for 20 minutes only to be told that his password couldn’t be reset after 12 noon and it was too late. “In none of the material I was sent about the online voting procedures did it ever say anything about a noon deadline to reset a password. And I’m not a newcomer when it comes to the internet. The person on the line told me ‘I would be happy to reset your password later so you can vote in the finals’,” the frustrated exec said. As someone with connections he was able to get in touch with a top Academy official who forwarded a paper ballot to his studio office with just an hour to spare before deadline. And although the Academy’s online system was designed specifically because of security concerns this executive was allowed to simply fax his ballot back directly to Price WaterhouseCoopers (the Academy’s accounting firm) so it could make the deadline. In his case the new age of Academy electronic voting came down in the end to a hastily received paper ballot and a fax machine .
Another member told me how she became confused when a drop down menu popped up when she typed the word “Lincoln” in among her choices for Best Picture. “A number of films with the letter ‘L’ appeared including Silver Linings Playbook and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. It was a little confusing before I figured it out and correctly selected Lincoln. I would hate to think I accidentally voted for the Vampire Hunter movie“, she said.
Over the New Years holiday weekend I randomly sampled some Academy members I was speaking with and also discovered they just weren’t quite ready to cast a ballot when reminded it was due Thursday (it was later extended one day to Friday, probably due to concerns that not everyone had enough time to vote after trying to see the large number of year-end releases). “Oh right. I need to ask my assistant to help me figure all this out. It’s online now, right?” asked one Oscar winning actor who is also contending for a nomination this year. Another Oscar winner with a possibility of a new nomination this year told me, “I actually prefer the old method of just filling out a paper ballot”. Still, many others I talked to had no problem with the new online voting procedures, even though a few admitted it took more than one try.
And paper ballots may make a major comeback if problems persist. Many already requested to cast their votes with the old fashioned paper despite the new online option. As I have pointed out repeatedly the Oscars are a tempting target for any potential hacker who would like the crack the Academy’s system of voting (impenetrable for the last 84 years). The Academy is well aware of this and puts security of their process above all else, as well they should. That is why this system so carefully constructed with special passwords and codes built in. But if it isn’t broken some are asking ‘why fix it’? It has worked all these years just fine, but the frustrations of moving into the tech age may just be something a prime hacker-target like the Oscars doesn’t need. At least one other high profile awards voting organization, the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences, still resists using online voting for the Emmys, and they probably won’t be moving to it anytime soon.
As one executive observed, “when the American Presidential elections secure online voting then we will know the Oscars are ready for it too.”
Nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards will be announced at 5:38 AM PT next Thursday January 10th.