Oscars voting extended after online poll gripes

AP and AFP, Wednesday 2 Jan 2013

Problems with a new online polling system has forced the motion picture academy to extend voting for the 2013 Oscars; nominees to be announced 10 January and the grand ceremony will be held 24 February

Photo: Reuters
A large Oscar statue stands in the hallway at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood September 10, 2012. Photo: Reuters

Growing concern that problems with the new electronic Oscar voting system could lead to record-low turnout has prompted the motion picture academy to extend the deadline for members to vote for Oscar nominations.

The academy, which organizes the climax to Hollywood's annual awards season in February, introduced the option of online voting for first time for its nearly 6,000 members. But with next week's highly anticipated announcements looming, the extension is only for a day, until Friday.

"By extending the voting deadline we are providing every opportunity available to make the transition to online balloting as smooth as possible," said the academy's chief operating officer, Ric Robertson, in a statement. "We're grateful to our global membership for joining us in this process."

Reports of difficulty accessing the Oscars' first-ever online voting system and fears that it could be hacked have raised questions about balloting for the 85th annual contest. Earlier this year, the academy and its longtime accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, partnered with the electronic voting firm Everyone Counts Inc. to develop the system.

"There's considerable concern from many members that voter participation will be at record lows this year because the people who wanted to take a chance on this new cutting-edge system are either giving up on it or worried they won't be able to cast their votes," said Scott Feinberg, awards analyst and blogger for The Hollywood Reporter.

In the past, Oscar voting has been compiled strictly through paper ballots sent through the mail. The new system allows members to choose between voting online or sticking with a traditional mail-in ballot.

Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker whose 2004 film "Super Size Me" was nominated for best documentary, posted on Twitter last week that he wasn't able to log on to vote electronically and his ballot was instead mailed to him.

"The password they sent didn't work for my log-in — and they couldn't email me a new log-in, only snail mail," tweeted the 42-year-old director.

The Academy also set up e-voting stations in Los Angeles, New York and London, where its own officials could help members through the process. But reports of problems with online voting have snowballed, with some Academy members struggling with the security system of passwords required to register their choices.

Oscar overseers originally said the switch would give the academy members more time to see nominated films before the Feb. 24 awards ceremony, but Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter noted that the change gave voters less time to see potential contenders during the first phase of voting, when members decide on nominees.

"It's easier to break into the CIA," one member told the Hollywood Reporter last week, in a piece which said many voiced concern that many older voters would give up and not cast their ballots.

The median age of the Academy's 5,765 members is 62, according to a recent study cited by the Hollywood Reporter.

"If the turnout is lower among older members, more traditional Oscar contenders will probably receive fewer votes, and otherwise edgier films that appeal more to younger people could fare better," said Feinberg. "Because of the way that best-picture voting works, it could increase the chances of a movie like 'The Master' or 'Moonrise Kingdom' getting in."

"You know, a lot of older, cantankerous people -- people who aren't so highly motivated to vote -- are going to say, 'Oh, forget this.' I'm sure there's going to be some votes lost," added another member.

Ultimately, because of the inherent secrecy involved in selecting Oscar winners, Feinberg said it will be impossible to know what impact — if any — this year's voting changes have on the ceremony, where as many as 10 films could be vying for the best-picture award.

Nominees will be announced on January 10, while the winners will be announced on February 24, at a show hosted by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane.

Unlike in some previous years there is no clear favorite for best picture, with frontrunners ranging from Steven Spielberg's political drama "Lincoln" to Osama Bin Laden manhunt docu-thriller "Zero Dark Thirty."

Others tipped for Oscars glory include musical adaptation "Les Miserables," romcom "Silver Linings Playbook," Ang Lee's 3D fantasy "Life of Pi," and actor-director Ben Affleck's Iran hostage crisis drama "Argo."

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