So, even with the numerous explanations of the system floating around out there, we know that a refresher course right before the big event couldn't hurt.
The next step is to take the ballots in the smallest stack, i.e., the film in last place, and redistribute them according to their second choice film -- thereby eliminating that last-place film from the race. Once those ballots have landed in their new piles, the votes are counted again to see if there's a 50.1% winner. If not, the smallest stack is again redestributed to the next film down, and so on until there's a film with the majority of votes.
The film that earns the 2010 best picture Oscar will almost assuredly take home the trophy without having earned a majority of No. 1 votes.
It's the most efficient and fair way to create both the nomination lists and to pick a winner, says the academy's executive director, Bruce Davis. "The preferential system is good at discerning what the electorate would like to see [nominated] as a slate of five candidates or 10 or whatever," Davis says. It also eliminates the possibility of any person being able to vote "against" a film by ranking it extremely low, Davis adds.
When the ballots are returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers, longtime partners Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns begin their super-secret process of tabulating the votes.
"We do the hand tabulations for both the nominations as well as for the finals themselves," Rosas says. "We are sequestered in an undisclosed location, where we count every last ballot by hand to ensure absolute accuracy."
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Above all, Davis says, the academy is focused on protecting the fairness of the process and keeping the attention on the nominees as a group up until Sunday. That's why the margins with which the films win are always kept under wraps.
"It's a huge, huge accomplishment to achieve a nomination out of however many hundreds of pictures are made in a given year. If we gave the totals, somebody in each category would be last and somehow people would make that a disgrace rather than the huge honor that it is," Davis says.