How the Academy Awards Voting Process Works in 7 Steps

PHOTO: Oscar statues on display at "Meet the Oscars" at the Time Warner Center in New York. PlayAndrew H. Walker/Getty Images
WATCH How the Academy Awards Voting Process Works

On Sunday night, Hollywood heavyweights will take the stage at the Dolby Theatre to present Academy Awards to their colleagues.

However, two people -- and only two people -- will know all of the winners in advance.

For the past 82 years, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been responsible for tallying the votes, and this year, partners Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan are heading up the operation.

The two opened up to ABC News about how the process works and how they make sure that the winners remain a secret until the show.

1. Voting started early: After the nominations were announced last month, 6,261 ballots were sent out to members of the Academy, each of whom decided ahead of time whether to vote electronically or with a paper ballot. This year, voting closed at 5 p.m. on Feb. 23. Immediately afterward, according to Ruiz, PricewaterhouseCoopers employees will step in, and a small group will count each vote by hand at a secret location.

2. The voting process is an organized one: Though electronic voting was introduced three years ago, many members still choose to use paper ballots. "We bring those to postal service and drop them off. They then go to the individual voters who complete the ballots, put them in an envelope that’s indicated with security codes and those come back to us," Cullinan said. "We then have those in an undisclosed location. We don’t tell people where the voting takes place or where the tabulation takes place. And we have a team that helps us go through this, but each of our team members are only doing a portion of the total counting and myself and my fellow partner Martha are the only two who really know the winners."

3. There's protection from counterfeit ballots: PricewaterhouseCoopers makes sure that each ballot returned to them is legitimate by matching the code on it to the corresponding voting member. And while Cullinan said he's never seen a fake ballot mailed in, he assured ABC News that it would be caught very quickly and wouldn't be counted.

4. Counting the votes takes days: Right now, it's likely that Cullinan and Ruiz are holed up with their team counting ballots -- and that process will continue for the rest of the week. "We have a safe. We have multiple rooms with security and biometric locks and all kinds of things. Alarms that if doors are open for too long the LAPD shows up. A lot of those security measures that we have in place just to make sure that’s its always safe," Cullinan said. Ruiz added that once the ballots are counted, they're filed away for a few years and then shredded.

5. Counting the Best Picture race is complicated: The process of counting votes for Best Picture isn't as simple as one might think. According to Cullinan, each voter is asked to rank the eight nominated films 1-8, one being their top choice. After determining which film garnered the least number of votes, PWC employees take that title out of contention and look to see which movie each of those voters selected as their second favorite. That redistribution process continues until there are only two films remaining. The one with the biggest pile wins. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that who has the most number one votes from the beginning is ensured they win," he added. "It’s not necessarily the case, because going through this process of preferential voting, it could be that the one who started in the lead, doesn’t finish in the lead."

6. Each winner's name is printed out to ensure security: Marc Friedland, creative director of Marc Friedland Couture Communications, has handcrafted the Oscar envelopes and winners cards for the past six years. The process takes 110 hours, as he creates three sets of winners cards -- one for each nominee -- and 72 envelopes. When he's finished, he gives the winners cards and the envelopes to Ruiz and Cullinan, who are responsible for putting the correct winners cards into the envelopes and sealing them. Then, they load them into briefcases and destroy the cards bearing the names of those who did not win. Winners also receive a copy of the envelope and the card bearing his/her name. "This is not something that's gonna get thrown aside," Friedland said. "This is coveted."

7. Security precautions are taken till the end: Ruiz and Cullinan each take a briefcase filled with winners' envelopes to the ceremony, but to ensure maximum security, each takes a different route and are protected by police. "No matter what happens, at least one of us will get there," Cullinan said. Once they're at the Dolby, the briefcase stays in their hands. "We stand backstage and we hand the envelope to the presenters just before they walk on stage," he added. "It doesn’t really leave my side and I have my LAPD escort with me backstage."

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