“And The Oscar® Goes To”… How PwC Counts The Ballots

I wrote this article for a PricewaterhouseCoopers newsletter in 2003. The ballot-counting process remains the same, though the envelope process has changed because of the glaring error when announcing “Best Picture” in 2017.

As an estimated 800 million people worldwide watched the 75th Annual Academy Awards® Presentation from Hollywood on Sunday, March 23, 2003, the most nervous pair of people on stage wasn’t host Steve Martin and four-time winner Jack Nicholson.

It wasn’t “Chicago” stars, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger. It wasn’t even Best Supporting Actor nominees, Paul Newman and Christopher Walken. Nor was it any other pair of multi-talented stars of the big screen.

Actually, it was Greg Garrison and Rick Rosas, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ballot Partners, who stood in the wings of the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium and once again handed the envelopes to the Award presenters. This marked the 69th year in PwC’s heralded partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, anchoring the firm’s global entertainment practice.

The Most Glamorous Jobs in Accounting

Either Greg or Rick would probably tell you that they have the most glamorous and exciting jobs in accounting. However, as Greg will also tell you, “observing the ceremonies and working backstage is a whole different adventure.”

Greg Garrison heads PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Assurance and Business Advisory Services Practice. During more than 27 years with the firm, he’s led the Entertainment and Media practice, and provided accounting and business advisory services to large multinational clients in the entertainment and consumer products industries. Greg has been the lead partner serving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1995.

In 2002, Rick Rosas, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Entertainment and Media Practice, was named the new co-ballot partner. He’s practised for more than 15 years, and since he joined the firm in 1996 has provided tax services to the Academy as well as leading entertainment companies.

Counting the Ballots And Maintaining Secrecy

PricewaterhouseCoopers approaches this particular annual engagement with these goals: accurately counting the ballots, while maintaining the legendary secrecy and integrity that has always surrounded the voting process.

In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers is so secretive about the entire balloting and tabulation process that Bob Hope once joked that to insure the secrecy of the results, the firm “shoots the secretaries.” Happily, PricewaterhouseCoopers does nothing of the sort. But it is true that the names of Academy Award winners are probably the most closely guarded secrets in Hollywood –– even the Academy’s Governors have no idea who is going to win until the sealed envelopes are opened. The Academy Awards have been called “the most honest elections anywhere in the world.”

Locking In The Tabulators For Three Days

The ballots for the Awards’ 24 categories are tabulated at a secret location known only to the members of the small PwC ballot team. The room in which the votes are tallied is locked at all times and only team members are ever allowed in. At the end of each of the hard days of counting, all the ballots and tabulation materials are locked in a safe, along with all tallies and related notes.

And, if that weren’t enough, the final tally of the biggest awards is delayed until a day or two before the show. That way, the two partners managing the balloting –– Greg Garrison and Rick Rosas –– know the results for as short a time as possible. As an added precaution, Greg and Rick also memorize the results, then quiz each other to make sure they’ve remembered every name and every award. After all, they’re the only people in the world who know who all of the winners are.

Armed Bodyguards And Other Security Precautions

To preserve the secrecy even longer, the final envelopes aren’t stuffed until the day of the Awards. Lined, opaque envelopes sealed with red wax were introduced in 1941, although today red stickers replace the wax. In fact, two sets of envelopes are prepared and separately hand-carried by Greg and Rick to the Awards ceremony.

Armed bodyguards drive them to the ceremony and stay with them until the final envelope has been handed out.

While these security measures might seem rather stringent for a non-military operation, they are really nothing more than an extension of PwC’s commitment to preserve our clients’ privacy. As Greg Garrison is quick to point out, “The actual ballot counting is clearly important to the show, but how we complete that role is also important because it reflects a number of the firm’s core values, including professionalism, integrity, confidentiality and accuracy.”

After all this – and a global audience of 800 million people – who says accounting isn’t glitzy?

A Month in the Life of a Ballot

The ballots for nominations were mailed to the 5,800 members of the Academy on January 10th, 2003 They had a few weeks to return their nominations, before they were announced to the world on February 11th, 2003.

Every member, except for Associate and Retired members, may vote for Best Picture, but for the other categories the members may only select nominees in the respective branch of the Academy to which they belong –– directors nominate directors, cinematographers nominate cinematographers, and so on.

The nominations themselves are determined by a so-called preferential system, meaning that each voting Academy member votes for films and individual achievements in order of their preference. The final tabulations are made by the plurality system, so the nominee with the most votes in a particular category wins.

Here’s What Counts

The Academy’s trusted balloting partner has tallied some other interesting numbers that illustrate what has gone into ensuring that the town’s biggest secret is kept under wraps, and that the world’s most famous statuettes get into the hands of the right nominees.

450,000* The approximate number of ballots counted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 77 years on the job.
2,575 The number of winners’ envelopes stuffed since the envelope system was introduced in 1941.
1,700 The approximate number of “person-hours” it takes the PricewaterhouseCoopers team every year to count and verify the ballots by hand.
77 The number of years PricewaterhouseCoopers has conducted the Oscar® balloting.
50 The number of broadcasts PricewaterhouseCoopers partners have appeared on since 1953 – the year the Oscars® were first televised. The partners used to come on stage to hand-deliver the envelopes; hence, “and the envelope please”, but this is now done just offstage.
24 The number of awards categories to be tabulated for the 83rd Academy Awards at a secret location known only to the members of the small PwC ballot team.
7 The number of days it takes to count the ballots for nominations.
3 The number of days it takes to count the final ballots.
2 The number of firms who have conducted the ballot counting for the Academy Awards: Price Waterhouse and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

For More Information…

Visit the PricewaterhouseCoopers The Oscars® site. Or download the PwC March 2003 Secure Solution Newsletter.

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  1. How The Oscar® Ballots Are Tabulated - February 28, 2011

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