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Oscar accountants prepare to count the ballots

Two men will tabulate the final results under tight security
/ Source: Reuters

Voting in this year’s Academy Awards race drew to an official close Tuesday as a last wave of Oscar ballots poured in, and two accountants prepared to tabulate the results under tight security.

The final tally for the film industry’s highest honors is one of its most closely guarded secrets in Hollywood, with ballots locked in a safe and counted behind closed doors of a nondescript conference room at an undisclosed location.

The results will be known only to two men from the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm until the sealed envelopes they personally carry to the ceremony under police escort are opened and read by star presenters on live television at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday.

“I’ve always said the keeping of the secret is actually one of the easiest parts of this,” said Rick Rosas, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has handled the Oscar voting for 72 years.

Rosas and fellow Pricewaterhouse partner Brad Oltmanns will sequester themselves with the ballots for the three days that it takes to open and count them all.

Nearly 6,000 ballots were mailed out Feb. 8 to the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and were due back at the Pricewaterhouse office in Los Angeles by 5 p.m. PT Tuesday. The firm will not reveal exactly how many votes come in, other than to say it is a “substantial majority.”

Rosas and Oltmanns will begin the tabulation Tuesday evening, assisted by four others in sorting.

Only two know the final count“But when the final count comes, it’s only Brad and I who know the winners,” he told Reuters in a recent interview. “We count them as much as we need to get a dead-accurate count and we tabulate them to the final vote for every category.”

But once the counting is done, the tallies in each of the 24 categories -- including how close the runner-ups came to Oscar glory -- are, in essence, gone with the wind.

“I memorize the names of the winners,” Rosas said. “I’m pretty good at forgetting the rest. And the vote count ... it’s one of those things I don’t really want to remember.”

Ritualistic secrecy continues up to the time of the ceremony.

On Saturday, the day before the Oscars, the two accountants will stuff cards bearing the names of the winners in two identical sets of envelopes, which are sealed and placed back in the safe.

The morning of the ceremony, the two men pick up the results, each taking a duplicate set of 24 envelopes inside a black leather case, which, contrary to popular myth, is not handcuffed to their wrists, Rosas said.

The accountants, accompanied by Los Angeles police officers, are later driven separately to the Kodak in unmarked cars, each taking a different route as a precaution against Los Angeles’ notorious traffic snarls.

Once at the Kodak, the accountants’ job is to maintain a poker face and keep the results to themselves, until they hand the envelopes to the stars who walk out on stage to announce the winners.

“You can imagine I hold the envelopes very tight that night,” Rosas said.

This will be Rosas’ fifth time as an Oscar vote-handler but he says he still feels out of place when he’s backstage, surrounded by Hollywood royalty.

“We’re accountants,” he said. “We’re the most anonymous people sitting in the Green Room. We’re the most nondescript. We’re clearly the two who don’t fit in. And we’re the only two who have a security detail.”