EW Staff
January 10, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

You may have always just assumed that the mysterious Academy Awards nomination process is a closely guarded secret. But call up the Academy’s official accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and folks are happy to explain. The only problem is you need to be a CPA to understand their process.

On Dec. 27, the Academy mailed nomination ballots to all 5,808 voting members, who must complete and return the ballots by Jan. 15. Members rank their top choices of the year. (They are permitted to vote only within each branch for which they are officially qualified. The sole exception is Best Picture, which is open to all voting members.)

After receiving all of the returned ballots, a dozen PWC accountants stack each category’s ballots into piles according to the No. 1 picks. Now, this is where it starts to get tricky. To become an official nominee, a candidate must receive a minimum number of first-choice votes. PWC determines that threshold by dividing the number of eligible votes by the number of nominees sought (five in most cases), plus one — a formula only an accountant might love.

Take Best Actor, for example. Nominations for this category can only come from the Academy’s 1,277-member acting branch. Let’s imagine all members return their completed ballots. (Though a 100 percent ballot return rate is rare, PWC partner Rick Rosas assures that ”there’s a very high voter participation. This is not an apathetic group, by any stretch.”) The total number of ballots (1,277) is divided by six (the five nominee spaces plus one, per PWC’s wonk-friendly formula), yielding a magic number of 212: So any actor who receives more than 212 No. 1 votes becomes a nominee.

”The system is intended so that everybody’s vote is counted once and only once,” explains Rosas, who has helped oversee the firm’s Oscar number-crunching for the past three years.

If the No. 1 piles don’t yield all five (or any) required nominees after the first pass, PWC will take the smallest pile and redistribute it based on each ballot’s No. 2 choice, effectively treating it as if it were ranked No. 1. This ”bottom-up” elimination system continues until the required number of nominees is met.

This may sound a little like Florida circa 2000. But the Academy has never been challenged with a recount since PWC began managing the process in 1935. After all, everybody knows there’s just no accounting for taste.

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