As of March, 2023, these are the guidelines for how to vote at the annual IRA Awards.
HOW TO VOTE AT THE IRAS
Currently, the IRAs include fourteen different categories, eleven traditional categories a la the Academy Awards and three barbed awards for the movies that put us to sleep, made us sick in one way or another and actors relying on the same old tricks we've seen from them before. These are the fourteen categories.
Best Supporting Actor
Best Nonfiction Film
Best Production Design
Best Score/Use Of Music
Sominex Award (The Movie That Put Us To Sleep)
Dramamine Award (The Movie That Made Us Sick)
Mechanical Actor (The Kevin Spacey Memorial Award)
THE EVENING'S SCHEDULE
We gather at the appointed hour in NYC or by video conference call. It takes at least half an hour for everyone to actually show up. After some chitchat, we begin voting in reverse order of importance. First we vote on Best Costumes and then Best Editing. After Best Cinematography, we pause to order food. After Best Nonfiction Film, we break for dinner. After Best Picture, we break for dessert and then wind it up with the viperish mean awards as an end-of-the-night treat. This seems straightforward, but takes a remarkably long time.
For every category, you are free to give points for up to five nominations. In the three acting categories, you may nominate up to ten actors in each. Most members sketch out their likely votes in each category before the night begins, looking at the movies they've seen and thinking "Oh yeah, that wasn't a great movie but boy it was shot well" and so on. Naturally, the movies you love the most will provide the most nominations in the most categories. But anything goes and offbeat nominations are appreciated. (I once got a chuckle by nominating Leni Riefenstahl for Best Actress the year a documentary about her came out, for which she was extensively interviewed. I've been trying to get a second chuckle ever since.)
So you've come up with five artists you want to honor for Best Costumes. What happens next? We go around the room beginning with the titular Ira and announce our "five pointer," the work/artist we admire the most. This is where you get an idea of what movies people are passionate about. If a majority of people single out one artist/movie, that's the winner by acclamation.
Most of the time, that isn't the case. (But we go through the rest of the process in any case.) Starting again with the first voter, they list their entire ballot. "I give five points to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, four points to Stagecoach, three points to The Wizard of Oz, two points to The Roaring Twenties and one point to Midnight." Then the next person lists their entire ballot. Again, you may list up to five nominations, but it's not required. You can say, five points to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, four points to Stagecoach and -- one point to The Wizard of Oz." You can't give extra points to any one film or list three movies with only one point each and so on. Let's not get clever. Generally, people vote for five nominations in most categories. If you've seen fewer films or just don't have enough nominations you're passionate about, don't worry. You won't be the only one to have a partial ballot.
You are free to adjust your ballot on the fly. In fact, if your initial five pointer is a movie no one else has mentioned yet and you believe no one else saw it (or just didn't like it), when it's your turn you may say, "I'm changing my five pointer to The Wizard of Oz, four points for...." and so on. Strategic voting by switching your ballot around is fine, though some IRA members nobly refuse to do so. Film Such-and-Such had the best cinematography of the year and that's what they're giving five points to and they don't care if no one else saw it.
You may only make nominations or change your ballot on the fly when it's your turn. Once you've voted, you can't speak up five minute later and say "Oh wait, I've changed my mind...."
Please DO keep track of your ballot, especially any changes on the fly so you can clarify what you voted for if asked later.
WHAT IF SOMEONE WORKED ON MORE THAN ONE MOVIE?
Typically we are honoring an artist's work accomplished since we voted at the last IRAs. So if you're voting for a composer, you are usually honoring two or three movies or if a costumer maybe just one movie or maybe four. In acting, naturally, we distinguish between lead and supporting performances, so arguments ensue as to whether a certain performance belongs in one or the other category. Sometimes people say, well I'm voting for Bette Davis for movie A but NOT for movie B. Don't sweat it and don't get caught up on how to classify a performance. If most people consider it lead, it's best not to "waste" your vote by insisting it was a supporting performance.
WHAT ABOUT TIES?
We love ties! Ties are never broken. It lets us honor multiple films and artists, often emphasizes the range of films we love and sometimes creates an amusing contrast. Bring 'em on! If three composers tie for first in the Best Use Of Music category, the one with the second most points takes the 4th slot and one more film is in fifth.
WINNERS AND RUNNERS-UP
Most categories will have one official winner and one runner-up. However, in acting the top two actors to receive points will both be named "winners" and the one with the third most points will be the runner-up.
WHAT'S THE VOTE TO RESCIND?
After a winner is selected in a category, there is an automatic vote to rescind. If a majority of the voters present vote to rescind, the artist/film with the most points is named the runner-up and the film with the second-most points is named the winner. This might happen because a majority of people think the initial winner is a more bland consensus vote and they prefer the runner-up. Or the winner won an Oscar and that's boring to them. Or the voting was particularly spread out in a category and three passionate voters crowned a work that the majority of voters actively hate or maybe a majority simply prefer the runner-up. A vote to rescind is rarely successful and actually comes into play maybe once a year. On the plus side, it drives Andy bonkers.
Can a nonfiction film win Best Picture? Yes.
What is meant by the category Best Score/Best Use Of Music? This is to avoid worrying about what music and how much was original and to recognize that Kubrick using classical music in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lucas using old pop songs in American Graffiti is just as creative and challenging as hiring Bernard Herrmann to write a score from scratch.
Why ten nominations for the acting categories? Don't ask. (The reasoning is that a movie you love typically has one cinematographer and one set designer and so on but may have three or five great performances. Acting is one of the areas it's most fun to vote in and we want to make room for them all.)
Why do the acting categories have two winners instead of one? See previous answer.