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Emmys 101: How Voting Works

Peer groups? Tapes? Here's our breakdown of the whole process

Joyce Eng

Emmy nomination ballots were due Monday, so there will be lots of number-crunching the next two weeks before nominations are announced on Thursday, July 14 at 11:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. PT. After all the excitement over surprise nominees and rage over indefensible snubs subside, final-round voting begins Aug. 15 to determine the winners.

But how does voting work? It's not cloaked in secrecy like Scientology or anything, but there are some finer points that have changed in recent years. Here's our breakdown of the whole process.
8 things we learned from the Emmy ballots

So what is the nomination process?
This year, the nominating voting period lasted from Monday, June 13 to Monday, June 27. Nomination ballots went out on June 13, which we analyzed over here and which you can peruse yourself over here.

The nominating process is pretty straightforward. All eligible members of the TV Academy, which numbers well over 18,000, can vote for the nominees of the various program races (comedy series, drama series, variety talk series, etc), where they can list up to 10 titles in each category. The exceptions are the animated and documentary/nonfiction program categories, the nominees for which will be determined by their peer groups.

Wait, what are peer groups?
They're the field of your expertise, like actors, writers, directors, etc. (At the Oscars, these are called branches.) Nominations for individuals are determined by peer groups, so actors nominate actors, writers nominate writers, and so on. They check off five or six names, depending on how many nominations will be in that category.

You can be in multiple peer groups upon request so long as you satisfy requirements. Tina Fey, a member of the writing peer group, loved everyone (read: Sarah Paulson) on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story so much that she asked to join the acting one just so she could vote for them.

So how are votes counted?
Votes are tabulated by a straight tally.

Cool. What's next?
After nominations are announced, there is one more thing performers and shows must do if they make the cut. Excluding guest performers, nominated actors must submit an episode to voters that captures their best work from this past season. This is why you hear "That is blah-blah's Emmy tape" tossed around when a juicy episode for a performer airs. ("Tape" because they were on VHS tapes back in the day that were sent to voters, which then became DVDs.)

For shows nominated for comedy and drama series, producers/networks/TPTB have to choose their six best episodes from the past season to submit to voters. In the past, these episodes were divided into three tapes (Tape A, Tape B, Tape C) and voters would only get one tape at random, so how you paired these episodes was important for flow and easy-to-follow-ness for voters who don't watch that show. Now, all the episodes are posted online.

Jimmy Kimmel Jeff Lipsky, ABC

So can everyone vote for the winners?
Last year's Emmys was the first time all eligible voters during the nomination round were allowed to vote for winners in all categories of their respective peer groups and the program races, as long as they acknowledge they've watched the submitted episodes and don't have a conflict of interest with the nominees.

And no, "last year's" is not a typo. This change was implemented in February 2015 to increase voter participation. Before that, voters were restricted to two peer group races and two program races, and winners were determined by a just small portion of the Academy membership. These "blue ribbon panels" of about 70 to 80 people from within a peer group would vote for the individual categories. So, for example, one acting panel could be assigned, let's say, comedy supporting actor and drama lead actress. Another acting panel could get drama supporting actor and comedy supporting actress.

The panels for the series' races were larger -- in the hundreds -- but remember, those voters only got one of the aforementioned three tapes of two episodes. So you and a buddy could have both been voting for drama series, but you got Tape A and he got Tape C.

Interesting. But do the voters actually watch the submitted episodes?
That's the thing. Under the old system, there was a far higher chance that voters did view the episodes (and some winners are proof of that), since watching a handful of episodes wouldn't require that much time -- you can get it all done in a weekend.

Now, voters still have to check off acknowledging that they've seen the episodes, but lbr, most people probably haven't watched all of them. Drama and comedy series have seven nominees each -- 7 shows x 6 episodes each = 42 episodes! And 42+42=84! That's not even counting all the other peer group categories they can vote in.

This year, the submitted episodes will be available to stream starting the week of Aug. 8. Voting for winners runs from Aug. 15 to Aug. 29. It's safe to say no one will make all that the time to watch over 100 episodes in that period.

Probably not. So how are the votes counted for the winners?
That's a new change for this year! Now, voters will just mark their top choice and the person/show with the most votes wins. But this plurality system means that in a seven-nominee race, you can win with a little over 14 percent of the vote. Not exactly a runaway majority.

The old system was a preferential/ranked ballot, in which voters had to rank all the nominees (1 being the highest), and the person/show with the lowest score was the winner. This system, like the Oscars' preferential ballot, was to draw consensus, which put divisive shows at a disadvantage.

Got it. And when are the Emmys?
Sunday, Sept. 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT on ABC. If you couldn't tell by the photo, Jimmy Kimmel's hosting.