Back on June 14, the Academy announced that, as part of an effort "to add a new twist to the 2011 Best Picture competition and a new element of surprise to its annual nominations announcement," it would no longer guarantee spots for 10 films in the category, but would instead have anywhere from five to 10 depending on how many attain first place votes on at least five percent of submitted ballots.
The Oscar ballots that are arriving in voters' mailboxes, however, contain only five spaces in which a voter can nominate a film for best picture, which some voters are concerned is an error on the part of the Academy, since they -- understandably enough -- expected 10 spaces. (Nomination ballots in 2009 and 2010 -- the two years in which the Academy guaranteed spots for 10 films in the category -- featured 10 spaces and asked for voters to list their nominees in order of preference.)
Academy members should rest assured that nothing is awry. Indeed, as the Academy announced in June -- and as THR's Gregg Kilday reported at the time -- "This time around, in the case of the best picture ballot, each member will be given a ballot with five open slots, which they will be asked to fill in with five movies, again ranked by preference."
The reason that voters are only being asked to name five films instead of 10 is that the current "preferential" voting system rewards films that appear highly on the most ballots, not films that merely appear somewhere on the most ballots. In other words, it seeks to identify films that many people love, not that most people like.
Consequently, as Kilday wrote in June, "On most ballots, the number one movie carries the real weight, although second and third choices could well come into play. Fourth and fifth choices will play a much more minimal role in the selection process." Sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth choices, had they been sought, would not have impacted the results at all.
Oscar nomination ballots are due back to the Academy January 13. Hopefully this addresses voters' questions.
– The Hollywood Reporter