How the Emmy Awards Work

Who Votes for the Emmys?

Shrine auditorium, home of the Emmy Awards
Shrine auditorium, home of the Emmy Awards
Photo courtesy CNN

After the deadline for entries, ballots with all of the qualified entries are mailed to academy members. Each peer group member votes in his own category -- performers for performers, directors for directors -- and everyone votes in the program categories, such as best comedy series and best miniseries. The members send their marked paper ballots to an independent accounting firm, Ernst & Young, to be counted. The top vote-getters in each category -- usually five, but there can be fewer -- are then announced as the nominees.

The academy asks for volunteers among the members to judge the nominees and choose the best in each category. The volunteer judges are grouped by peers, too, and the number of voters in each category varies. But again, everyone votes in the outstanding program categories. In years past, judging panels met in Los Angeles and watched all of the nominated shows and performances in a two-day marathon. Rod Serling, the prolific writer behind the "Twilight Zone" series, devised the judging panel idea in the 1960s, when he was president of the academy. He and others wanted to make sure that the judges actually watched the nominees, rather than just voting for their favorites.

Putting up decorations outside Shrine auditorium, for the 55th Annual Emmy Awards Putting up decorations outside Shrine auditorium, for the 55th Annual Emmy Awards
Putting up decorations outside Shrine auditorium, for the 55th Annual Emmy Awards
Photo courtesy CNN

Judging rules can change based on changes in the industry and the needs of the voting body. For example, in 2000, the academy decided to allow members to volunteer to watch tapes of the nominees in their own homes and on their own schedules. This meant that more people could vote in the final process; television critics and others had criticized the former voting procedure, saying that only older people with more time on their hands (that is, not active performers, directors, technicians) would volunteer to participate in an inconvenient, time-consuming judging process. The critics said that the old voting procedure led to some of the best and most daring shows going unrecognized, because the judging panels were older and more conservative. But opponents of the new, more relaxed judging process say that there is no guarantee that the voters will watch the tapes. Essentially, the members are on the honor system.

Once the volunteer voters have mailed their ballots to Ernst & Young, the firm counts them, keeping the winners' names secret and secure until the awards are broadcast. On the show, a member or two from the accounting firm will be introduced. These representatives will keep the envelopes with them until the presenters actually carry them out on stage.

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