Oscars Copy Hugos

The instant runoff voting system that the Hugo Awards use for their final ballot (often known as an Australian Ballot) has come in for a fair amount of criticism in its time. People complain that it is too complicated and they can’t understand it. However, we have stuck with it, because we believe that it produces better results. A certain other well known set of awards has always used a first past the post (plurality) system, but it was announced recently that from now, at least for Best Picture, on the Oscars will use an instant runoff system very similar to the one we use. Apparently the folks in charge of the Oscars think the change will produce better results (better here meaning fewer people yelling, “how come that won?”).

Tied in with this decision is the move to expand the nominee list for Best Picture to 10 films. Once you know that, the instant runoff system decision becomes obvious. With first past the post voting it is possible to win with a (1/N) + 1 share of the vote, where N is the number of nominees. With 5 nominees it was theoretically possible to win Best Picture with 21% of the vote; with 10 nominees you could win with 11%, so the chances of an upset win are much greater. The instant runoff system, however, will always produce a compromise winner that is least disliked by all voters.

There is just one problem for the Oscars. The members of the Motion Picture Academy are complaining that the new voting system is too complicated and they can’t understand it. Perhaps we could get some experienced Hugo voters to help them cast their votes.