Could Slate Voting Result In More Diverse Nominees?

With questions about the most diverse Democratic presidential primary in history getting down to a bunch of white people who made the next debate, and concerns that the Academy Award nominations have been biased (an all-male Best Director slate; only one person of color nominated for an acting performance), there are some arguments that the way these things are determined is flawed and there is a solution that allows for people to take diversity into account.

The argument goes that instead of asking people for their favorite, at least during early stages, they should allow people to mention slates of multiple choices. So Democratic voters can mention their three favorite candidates and put more thought into diversity than if they’re only selecting one potential president. Likewise, Oscar voters could nominate multiple people in each category to include all of their favorites and take into account the message they’re sending.

So when voters were asked by pollsters (whose polls often determine who is invited to primaries) who they’re planning to support, they would be asked for their top three rather than just their favorite. Someone whose first choice is Bernie Sanders might also be able to say they want to give a platform to Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. Someone whose preference is for Joe Biden would also have been able to say that they’d like to hear more from Deval Patrick and Amy Klobuchar.

With the Academy Award nominating ballots, Oscar voters whose top choice for Best Actress is Renee Zelwegger in Judy could have also voted for two more, and ensured diversity by suggesting Awkwafina and Lupita Nyong’o (who incidentally gave my favorite performance in the category in Us.) The current rules had people voting for just their one favorites, which can lead to particular trends; On Saturday Night Live, Melissa Villaseñor mocked the way that a lot of the best picture nominees were about “white male rage.”

There is a later phase when people should make one choice (or have something like ranked voting that brings them down to a finalist) but it could be premature when it’s in the earlier phases of winnowing down those choices.

There are potential drawbacks. There’s no promise that this system would lead to diverse nominee slates. Typical Democratic primary voters unaware of the discussions of the online left might just mention Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg. We’re asking for complex strategy from ordinary people who don’t necessarily know things that are common knowledge, like that Pete Buttigieg is gay. With the academy, it could lead to greater support for the most popular films when the actors in an ensemble aren’t competing against one another (someone who really liked The Irishman no longer had to choose between Pesci and Pacino; someone who really liked Ford VS Ferrari could have voted for both Christian Bale and Matt Damon for lead actor.) It also becomes easier for someone to support their favorite film in acting categories. A fan of 1917 no longer has to choose between that film’s lead and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.

The Sad Puppies fiasco a few years back also showed how slate voting could be abused. You could have activists coordinating to have an outsized influence. If 20% of voters support the same slate, they could change the selection of the nominees in ways that could taint the final selection.

You might have strategic voting for weak candidates in order to bolster one strong candidate (IE- a Biden fan telling pollsters their slate includes Tulsi Gabbard, figuring there’s no way in hell she’ll win the nomination.) With this, and some politically correct voting, quality candidates could be excluded. So Eddie Murphy might have gotten a Best Actor nomination over Jonathan Pryce, even if more voters felt Pryce’s performance was the best of the year.

These types of reforms also neglect the potential pipeline problem. If there are two Democratic African-American Senators and no African American Governors, odds are going to be rather low that the most impressive presidential candidate is one of them, rather than one of the white guys. This gets messier in film, where so many nominees didn’t get their start in the American film industry. Five of the last six Academy Awards for best director have gone to three men who worked together in the Mexican film industry.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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