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E-Vote Hiccups Delay Oscar Balloting

Jan 3, 2013
Originally published on January 3, 2013 6:10 pm

Voting for this year's Oscar nominations was supposed to have closed today — but it's been bumped a day, in the wake of complaints about the new online voting system put in place by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Hollywood Reporter analyst Scott Feinberg tells NPR's Audie Cornish that the system was supposed to make life easier for academy members.

"Going to e-voting would allow voters to vote from anywhere in the world, if they're on vacation or whatever during the holidays, and just make the process itself more streamlined and efficient."

But in recent weeks, murmurs of discontent began to be heard.

"About a week or 10 days ago, I began reaching out to a considerable number of members," he says. "What members of all ages were finding was they were having problems navigating the system — in particular, oddly enough, just logging in."

Feinberg says one early possible culprit was the intricate passwords the academy system required.

"The stereotype of the academy member is that they're elderly, and maybe not the most tech-savvy people," he says. "And there are certainly plenty of those in the academy, among the 6,000 or so members. But this problem has been felt by members in their 30s, 40s, 50s who I spoke with. So my strong sense is that it's more just a glitch in the system."

Other awards organizations, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the Screen Actors Guild, use e-voting systems, but Feinberg points out that Oscar organizers see their process as a prime target for hackers.

"So in order to guard against that ... they've tried to create a system that is secure. But as their spokesperson told us, there's challenges: You can't have total convenience or total security. You have to find a middle ground."

The academy has sent paper ballots to members who've requested them. But Feinberg says there are real concerns among members that the e-voting hurdles will prompt some exasperated members to throw up their hands and opt out. That could affect what movies get nominated — and which ones win.

"There's concern that voter participation could be down a lot this year," he says. "The academy says voting patterns are consistent with what they've been in years past, but I don't know that they would have extended their deadline unless they saw that there was some sort of an issue."

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Big change is happening right now at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The members aren't denying it. They're complaining about it. Voting for this year's Oscar nominations was supposed to have closed today. It's been bumped today because the Academy is trying out a new online voting system and members say it's got some hiccups. Scott Feinberg has been covering the story.

He's an awards analyst for the Hollywood Reporter and he joins us now. Welcome, Scott.

SCOTT FEINBERG: Thank you. It's an honor.

CORNISH: So how is this online system supposed to work?

FEINBERG: Well, it's supposed to make life easier in the sense that going to e-voting would allow voters to vote from anywhere in the world, if they're on vacation or whatever during the holidays, and just make the process itself streamlined and a little more efficient.

CORNISH: So what's been the problem?

FEINBERG: Well, you know, we heard little murmurs from various people that there were some issues with the new voting system. And so, about a week or 10 days ago, I began reaching out to a considerable number of members of the Academy just to find out what their experience had been. And what we found was consistent with what the Academy had said. There was a majority of them who had opted to use the e-voting, which is what they call it.

They did have an option this year to keep using a paper ballot, but the majority decided to use a e-ballot. But what members of all ages were finding was that they were having problems navigating the system, in particular, oddly enough, just logging in. And at first, it seemed it might be the result of the intricate passwords that the Academy required of them to create.

I think the stereotype of the Academy member is that they're elderly, and maybe not the most tech-savvy people. And there are certainly plenty of those in the Academy, among the 6,000 or so members. But this problem has been felt by members in their 30s, 40s, 50s who I spoke with. So my strong sense is that it's more just a glitch in the system.

CORNISH: But it's not necessarily a new system, right? I mean, I understand that the British Academy actually adopted it several years ago.

FEINBERG: I'm not sure that their system is the same, but yes, they and Screen Actors Guild and certain other voting organizations do use e-voting, but I think the concern of the Academy, rightfully so, is they would be a prime target for hackers. So in order to guard against that, what they have done is tried to create a system that is secure.

But as their spokesperson told us, you know, there's challenges. You can't have total convenience or total security. You need to sort of find a middle ground. And for members who have sort of thrown up their hands and said I give up on the e-voting, they have almost all been accommodated, from what I can tell, in terms of getting a paper ballot Fed-ex'd to them.

CORNISH: Scott, no offense, but, you know, people's job here is to basically watch the movies and then vote on the ones they like. I mean, this doesn't really sound like hard work. Okay. So I understand they're waiting till the last minute. But how can it really affect - is there any concern that this could actually affect what movies are nominated this year, what movies have a chance to win?

FEINBERG: There is concern and it's coming from the members, you know, who are telling us that they or people - other members that they know, have sort of eventually thrown up their hands in frustration, you know, and said, we may not vote at all because it's just too big a pain in the neck.

So, yeah, there's concern that voter participation could be down a lot this year. Although, the Academy says voting patterns are consistent with the way that they've been in years past, I don't know that they would have extended their deadline unless they saw that there was some sort of an issue.

CORNISH: Scott Feinberg is an awards analyst for the Hollywood Reporter. Scott, thank you for explaining it.

FEINBERG: My pleasure.

CORNISH: And we should say we put in a call to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A spokesperson there told us most of the issues they've seen have been forgotten passwords and user Ids - in other words, user error - and that most of those problems have been resolved. They acknowledge logging into the voting system is more challenging than logging into most other websites. It was designed that way to protect the security and integrity of the vote.

The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards will be announced a week from today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.