Oscar’s move to online voting is off and running. The Academy confirms that a very impressive 83% of the membership had returned cards requesting their email address by the deadline date of June 30, but an Academy spokesperson assured me “it’s an ongoing process,” so if you were one of the stragglers, get that email to the membership department.
This is a first step in a very methodical and careful move to online voting for the Academy just as most other guilds and voting orgs have already done. And it is also a first step toward potentially moving the Oscar telecast up earlier in the season to the end of January or beginning of February. An expedited voting process would certainly help make that difficult prospect easier to pull off.
The Academy sent out the request to members in May, and considering the advanced age of some AMPAS voters, the response is encouraging. Common wisdom is that older voters might be the most resistant to change, but officials are happy with the way potential online voting is being embraced so far.
As I wrote recently, there was also some concern about A-listers not providing their direct emails, which is a problem because the Academy does not want to put an electronic ballot in the hands of Brad Pitt’s or Barbra Streisand’s assistants (even though it’s no secret that there are some assistants who have been known to help their boss by filling out the snail-mail ballots anyway). Academy president Tom Sherak tells me confidently that even that part of the process is now “going fairly well” too.
Sherak says the Academy hopes to have a firm that can conduct online voting in place by this month and it is actively involved now in the selection procedure for that. “We’re getting closer” is how Sherak puts it, but he emphasized to me that online voting for Oscars will not be ready for next year’s 84th Academy Awards. He says they are taking a very methodical approach and after securing a firm will begin testing by putting some kind of vote online while still using paper ballots (which will be the only ones that count in the test case) to see how the online method is initially received. Then they will probably test it again leading to its first official use, perhaps in the selection of governors for the board next May. ”It will not be implemented until we’re sure it works, but all of this preparation is necessary so we can move it methodically into a proper voting cycle for the Oscars,” he says. Sherak adds they are aware that even though they want to move this process online, some members don’t have emails. The Academy will be providing an alternative for those concerned voters (likely the old standby paper ballot) just as the guilds do now.
“We will give all our members an opportunity to be part of something they have always been a part of,” Sherak says, meaning no one among the approximate 6,000 voting members are about to be disenfranchised by new technology creeping into the notoriously slow-to-change Academy.
Of course, many of those members already have experience voting online in their various guild contests since most Academy voters are also likely guild voters. The bigger problem here I think for the Academy is that unlike those contests, Oscar, being the highest-profile awards show of them all, may provide an irresisible target for hackers — and the Academy knows it. A key reason they are being careful about diving into online voting is the danger of having its air-tight voting system compromised. After all, WikiLeaks proves no one, even the most closed doors of the U.S. government, are immune to a cyber violation of its top secrets.