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The Oscar Ballot Counters Know How to Keep a Secret

The red carpet appearance by briefcase-bearing PricewaterhouseCoopers reps has become an annual ritual at the Oscars. They’re as close as it gets to an everyman on the carpet.

Yes, those briefcases really hold the results.

Yes, they know the results themselves. And the PwC carriers for 2015, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, will have earned their place by dint of an enormous effort.

“The process is most of a full year,” says Cullinan, managing partner of PwC’s Southern California Practice. “It’s thousands of hours of work when you count our whole team,” he says. “How involved it is is not well understood. I only understood it better when I became part of the team.”

Ruiz, a tax partner in the firm’s Entertainment & Media Practice and a longtime member of PwC’s Oscars team, says that just weeks after the last show, “We start planning, getting our teams together for the following year.” Cullinan explains that counting nominations ballots takes “a lot of mathematical gymnastics” because of the Acad’s complex preferential voting system.

PwC tabulates the final results at a secure, undisclosed location, finishing just two days before the show.

They seal three sets of envelopes containing the winners, keeping one set apiece, with the other one going to a secret location. The pair also memorize the results, so for two days, they will be the only ones who know the winners.

On Oscar day, they will ride in separate Escalades, taking different routes, each accompanied by an LAPD officer for security.

Only when the last winner is announced can they relax. But they’re still sworn to silence.

“We have to keep the secret forever of what happened,” Cullinan says. “Who came in second? How close was it? You don’t hear about that.”

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