Ballot boo-boo

Oscar mailing snubs Acad's Euro voters

An apparent Brit glitch is making a ballot brouhaha for Oscar.

Even though Academy Awards ballots are due Saturday, many voters in Europe still have not received their forms in the mail. So on Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences resent 330 ballots to European voters — 241 of them in the U.K.

The Acad sent the new ballots via DHL to the London office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which will presumably receive them Tuesday and will forward them to Euro voters ASAP.

Voters are being instructed to return their ballots to PWC’s London office; the Acad is suggesting that voters use express-delivery or messenger services to return the ballots. Even so, these voters are being given an extension: Their deadline has been extended until 5 p.m. local time Tuesday, Jan. 20. That extended deadline, however, only applies to European ballots.

While domestic voters are not affected by the Euro mail holdup, many this week expressed alarm at the realization that their ballots must be filled out mid-week and be in the hands of L.A. PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants by 5 p.m. (PST) Saturday. This means that if voters in New York don’t have their ballots in the mail by Wednesday, it may not get there.

The culprit seems to be Britain’s Royal Mail. Still, the snafu points up the perils of a shorter awards season, which doesn’t allow for any glitches, and this has turned out to be a big, bad glitch.

Some European ballots apparently did reach their destination, as the PWC London office reported that it has received some of the original ballots, though the accounting firm did not give numbers.

PWC said that all the ballots are coded, ensuring that no voter will get his choices counted twice, even if he or she returns both ballots.

Apparently delivery to other overseas destinations, such as Sydney, have proceeded on time.

The mail holdup proves that a few days can make a big difference. Last year, the Academy mailed out-of-state ballots on Jan. 6, and domestic ballots four days later. All ballots were due Jan. 29. This year, domestic and overseas ballots were sent out Dec. 29.

In other words, Euro voters last year had 24 days to return ballots. This year, it would have been 20 days. But those 20 days included holidays that weren’t a factor last year.

The Academy always delivers overseas ballots to the U.S. Postal Service, which sends them to its international service center. They are then shipped overseas via commercial airlines and, when delivered, enter the local postal system.

Most people at the Academy and the U.S. Postal Service on Monday said they are confident that the domestic side of the ballot delivery was on schedule.

“At this time of year, there are a lot of factors that could delay mail once it’s out of our hands,” U.S. Postal Service spokesman George Marsh said. In the two weeks since ballots were mailed Dec. 29, there have been only 10 delivery days, thanks to the New Year’s holiday and Sundays. Once the mail arrives at the airport for overseas delivery, people are at the mercy of the weather and even airplane capacity (mail sometimes gets bumped to make room for more passengers).

One other factor may have affected the voting. On the week that the ballots were sent overseas, the U.S. was on Orange Alert over terrorism concerns and many flights were canceled.

This is not the first time the Academy, through no fault of its own, has had to deal with missing ballots. In March 2000, a huge number of final ballots were delivered to the Beverly Hills Post Office, but were never received by the voters. Those missing ballots were traced to a warehouse in Bell that houses bulk mail.

The Academy mailed out 4,200 replacement ballots.

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