One thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has gotten right—as far as we know—is online Oscar voting. It’s fast, secure, and likely accurate. The process is fast, secure, and accurate. Members are currently in the middle, with final balloting beginning on Thursday. Closed next Tuesday, which is just five days away from the show.
Amazing. Each year the polling goes smoothly. That’s more than you can say for the last few Presidential elections.
So here’s a thought: Why not use the awards vote—either the final round, or the nominations ballot, it doesn’t matter which—to get the Academy’s 9,500 voting members more involved with governance?
This is not true for personnel issues or petty matters. These will be dealt with by the staff and the Board of Governors. Nor with the fine points of finance, administration or legal status—most members are no more interested in meddling with those matters than Academy leaders are in having them meddle.
But an occasional member referendum, attached to the awards ballot, could be a powerful tool in finding or restoring consensus around issues that affect the Academy’s identity and mission.
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It’s no secret that members are restless, having been caught off guard by a top-down decision to edge eight awards—including those for Film Editing and Original Score—off the live show, and onto a canned presentation. It was not about the substance of the decision, but rather how it was done.
Wouldn’t it have been wiser to poll the members, perhaps in a nonbinding referendum attached to the earlier nominations ballot? If a clear majority favored the cuts, so be it—the board would have had moral support for a tough decision. Even if the majority of members opposed the change, it’s okay. The governors would have had a mandate to challenge ABC’s insistence that the Oscar broadcast be streamlined at the expense of core cinematic crafts.
There would be no need to disclose the absolute number of votes in either direction—that would force the Academy to break its taboo on telling how many members actually vote for Academy Awards. To guide open debate, the percentages alone would suffice.
(But that much disclosure? sine qua non. It won’t do to conduct a poll then hide the results, as the Academy did with its last, long-forgotten member survey.)
It might not be possible every year. A referendum is necessary when the Academy faces defining issues such as recent Academy decisions to double membership, enforce a code of conduct in the industry, or impose gender- and racial inclusion standards for Best Picture contestants.
It would be good to know what the members actually think about these matters—they are, after all, an intelligent, highly trained professional elite. There’s no good reason to shut them out of the Academy’s affairs.
A referendum at the annual meeting of the board’s members would be a good idea to help keep the discussion on track. More, it would restore confidence in governors who, under current bylaws, aren’t even supposed to discuss board business with those whom they represent.
Online voting seems to work. You should use it to help the institution get on track.