Monday, March 10, 2014

How online voting worked with the 2014 Oscar awards

Source: Google Images
The increasingly widespread use of technology for voting systems is being witnessed not only when it comes to electing officials to varying levels of government, but also under other circumstances like electing a new student council at a school or when citizens can vote on a new referendum that directly affects their everyday lives. And even long standing organizations, like the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), are moving forward with the adoption of more advanced voting technology.

Voting for the Academy Awards, better known simply as The Oscars, has traditionally been with a conventional paper ballot, but that changed to online voting for the 85th Academy Awards in 2013. This seemed like a genuinely good idea, as members of the Academy could then vote remotely at their leisure and the ballots could be counted almost instantaneously, the online voting system faced a number of problems, particularly with older members of the Academy who were not as familiar with technology.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the voting members are of the older generation, they were “altogether unfamiliar with the platform” and had great difficulty casting their votes. This may have had a tremendous impact on the results, but this does not mean that the idea of using e-voting or online voting is a bad idea. It simply means that a better system has to be implemented in a better way, helping to educate and train the members of the Academy in how it all works.

And indeed, considering all the complaints that it received, AMPAS rolled out an “upgraded and simplified” system for voting in the 2014 Oscar Awards. Members register for their account online and do not require a separate username and password for the voting session; for the 2013 Oscars, members had separate passwords for the registration and voting process, not to mention a complicated series of checks and balances. Changing passwords could also be done online independently, whereas members had to phone into the support system last year. The Academy also worked to improve the overall user interface to make the system easier to use.

While the aftermath of the voting session has not yet been completely revealed, it appears that online voting in the 86th annual Academy Awards went far more smoothly than the first year of online voting. With over 6,000 voting members of the Academy, the administration of the voting process for these awards is understandably simpler than if a similar system were implemented for a larger government election, but this experience should be revealing for jurisdictions and organizations that are considering the use of online voting for their own referendums and elections.

To help aid in this transition toward the greater use of technology, particularly with online and mobile voting, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still allows members to vote in person with a paper ballot, but most of the voting is online. This is in line with the growing movement toward fast-tracking younger applicants, providing a younger and more representative body of voting members than the older and more traditional demographic that has historically dominated the Academy and its ideological leanings.

By providing an online system as the primary method for voting, the Academy is helping to encourage greater voter turnout among its members. The Academy, as one voting member told David Gritten of The Telegraph, “is trying very hard to be fair and to be seen as fair.” This is not dissimilar from just about every government and organization in the world.