Instant Runoff Voting at the Oscars

Every once in a while, there are glimmers of hope for American democracy.

I’ve been complaining for the last few weeks to anyone who will listen that the increase from 5 Best Picture Nominees to 10 is a bad move, because it will increase the randomness — for lack of a better word — of the winner. When you have 10 choices, I argued, then a movie could theoretically win with 11% of the vote. In other words, the Best Picture of the Year could be a film that 89% of voters didn’t consider to be the best picture of the year.

Happily, I was wrong! The Academy is using a fantastic voting strategy called instant runoff voting (a.k.a. Ranked Choice Voting). IRV lets you rank your preferences, so that if your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to the second or third choices, if they are still in contention.

Voting-reform nerds love IRV because it means you can register a preference for a candidate without “throwing your vote away” on a long-shot. If we had IRV in the 2000 presidential elections, for example, one could vote for Ralph Nader as #1 and Al Gore as #2. If Nader didn’t garner enough votes to qualify, the ballots that listed Gore in the second slot would be added to his totals.