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With less than two hours left before the official 5 p.m. deadline for all the Oscar ballots lovingly completed by busy Academy members' undocumented domestics (really, who has time to watch all those screeners?) to arrive at the L.A. office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, it seems like a good time to look at what happens once all the votes are in and carefully tabulated by AMPAS's anointed bean-counters. Reuters describes the "ritualistic secrecy" that ensures the integrity of the process:

Safeguards on secrecy continue up to the ceremony.

On Saturday, the day before the Oscars, the accountants will prepare two identical sets of envelopes stuffed with cards bearing the winners' names, which are placed in a safe.

The morning of the show, each accountant picks up his set of envelopes and places them inside a black, leather case, which contrary to popular myth is not handcuffed to their wrists. Accompanied by police officers, the two are driven separately to the Kodak, each taking a different route as a precaution against Los Angeles' notorious traffic.

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 presenters as each category is announced.

"I take it very, very seriously," Oltmanns said. "The evening of the show, I'm backstage looking at each envelope 15 or 20 times before it's handed to the presenter to make sure that I've got the right envelope for the right presenter."

Unfortunately, not even these elaborate precautions are sufficient to prevent a determined studio from tampering with the results if they're willing to go to any length to lock up an Oscar. We should all now pause to remember the brave PriceWaterhouseCoopers staffers who lost their lives last year after both were intercepted on their separate routes to the ceremony, when accountant-lookalike operatives from Lionsgate overwhelmed them, replaced the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay envelopes with counterfeit ones indicating a double Crash win, then tossed their bodies in a dumpster behind the Kodak Theatre. As there was nothing in the Academy's archaic bylaws that addressed this exact eventuality, the film was allowed to keep the awards even once the bodies were discovered days later, closing perhaps the saddest chapter in Oscar history.

[Photo: Getty Images]