Oscar Ballots: Lost … and Found!

Neither wind nor sleet nor an apparent boo-boo by the mailman will keep the Oscars from its appointed rounds.

The Oscars Officials with the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles were searching high and low today for some 4,000 Academy Award ballots that vanished after being mailed to movieland voters Wednesday. That number represented four-fifths of all voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. More specifically, that number represented all California-based voters. (Another 1,000 voting members who live in New York and overseas received their ballots earlier.)

As of this afternoon, about 1,000 of the missing ballots had been tracked down to the USPS regional distribution center in Bell, an industrial area south of Los Angeles. The remaining 3,000 MIAs were (horror of horrors!) believed to be buried under thousands of bags of more bulk mail, at the plant and on trucks.

As a make-good, the post office has agreed to fix its error with a rush remailing of all the ballots — even going so far as to offer Oscar types an evening mail pickup at the Academy’s Beverly Hills office. If all goes as planned, Hollywood-based Academy members should get their ballots Wednesday, giving them ample time to submit their choices by the March 21 deadline.

So how did the all-important Oscar ballots end up in the bulk-mail heap? The post office mistook the Academy’s first-class missives for run-of-the-mill, third-class stuff and treated it as such.

It’s enough to make a regal golden statue feel like a common hood ornament.

“The mail was in gray sacks, the way bulk mail normally would be, so it was treated the way it looked,” USPS spokeswoman Terri Bouffiou told Hollywood.com today. “We have located some of the mail in the bulk-mail system, and the Academy has asked us to return that mail to them because, as we speak, they are restuffing the ballots, and the plan is for the postal service to go to the Academy at 7 p.m. tonight and pick them up.”

For the record, Bouffiou said the missing ballots were never really lost — the postal service, uh, just couldn’t find them. Bulk mail, you see, doesn’t get the red-carpet treatment. As all the AWOL mailbags are eventually found, they’ll be returned to the Academy, but that could take days more. The idea is to pull all the old ballots out of the mail before they’re delivered so the voters receive just one ballot.

In any case, the March 26 Oscars ceremony isn’t off. And the folks at the Academy aren’t peeved; on the contrary, they say they’re impressed by how much the mail service is doing to correct the problem. (Examples: The USPS isn’t charging the Academy for the remailing, and it’s reimbursing other expenses related to the mishap.)

“I don’t think anyone is mad at the post office. It’s just a simple mistake,” Academy spokesman John Pavlik told Hollywood.com. “They’ve been great. When they were informed of the problem, they went searching through every bag of mail in the city. They were more upset about it than we were.” Pavlik said the missing mail was first noticed Saturday night, when some attendees of the Academy’s techie awards ceremony asked why they hadn’t gotten their main ballots. Then, frantic voters (if not, nominees) began calling the Academy’s offices in Beverly Hills on Monday, wondering what the problem was.

Pavlik said that a similar snafu occurred in 1982, although it concerned the ballots for Oscar nominations, not for the actual awards. Pavlik is sympathetic to the postal service’s plight because, ironically, he worked his way through college at a post office in Minneapolis.

No word yet on whether the Oscar folks will take their chances with the postal service next time — or use FedEx instead.