NEW YORK – One press agent calls it "votergate."
A veteran producer says it's "a problem that has been going on for years."
And a former drama critic says it's a scandal people "moan about" but one that the theater industry does "absolutely nothing to police."
They are talking about Tony voters (search) who do not bother to see all the nominated shows but vote for candidates in all the categories nonetheless.
Officially, this is a cardinal sin on Broadway.
Voters are required to sign a pledge with their ballot certifying they have seen all the nominated productions.
If they have not, they are instructed "not to vote in any category in which you have not seen all the nominees."
But, as with all sins, people commit this one with abandon, and cheerfully admit to it — off the record, of course.
"I didn't see 'Big River,' so am I not voting for Best Revival of a Musical? Of course, I'm voting for Best Revival of a Musical," says one producer.
(Full disclosure: I have been a Tony voter for 15 years and must admit that, on occasion, I, too, have sinned.)
Producers keep close tabs on the number of Tony voters who use their Tony tickets (every voter gets two freebies).
No one was willing to discuss specific numbers on the record, but, according to interviews with half a dozen theater insiders yesterday, it appears that a lot of Tony voters have yet to see many of the nominated shows, even though their ballots are due Friday at 6 p.m.
For example, only about 35 percent of the voters have responded to invitations to see Best Play nominee "Frozen," according to production sources.
Twenty percent of the people who make up the First Night Press list, all of whom are Tony voters, have not picked up their tickets to "I Am My Own Wife" (search) yet, a production source says.
And half the Tony voters didn't even bother to see "Big River," which played a limited, eight-week engagement at the Roundabout last summer.
These figures, it must be noted, do not provide an entirely accurate picture.
Some voters go on friends' Tony tickets. Others may have seen "I Am My Own Wife" and "Frozen" at the off-Broadway theaters in which they originated.
Still, even with these caveats, it's clear plenty of Tony voters are shirking their duty.
A top press agent estimates that, on average, only 50 percent of the 735 Tony voters bother to see all the nominated plays. For musicals, the average is about 70 percent, he says.
Producers, press agents and general mangers regularly call voters who have yet to RSVP for their Tony tickets.
"They tell us they saw the show with a friend, or they went and bought a ticket," one press agent says. "How are we supposed to know if they're telling the truth?"
Theater insiders say road presenters — the people who produce Broadway shows on tour — are among the worst offenders.
"Many of the road people come in right before the Tonys and only see the big commercial musicals," says a veteran producer. "They don't care about the plays because they're never going to book the plays."
Jeremy Gerard, former theater critic of Variety and one of the few people willing to speak on the record about "votergate," says Broadway should crack down on errant Tony voters.
"We're only talking about, what, 730 people? This should not be hard to police. There should be a record."
Some say a punch-card system might do the trick. Tony voters could be issued cards that would be punched every time they collect their tickets to a Tony-nominated show.
Only after the card has been completely punched would a voter be issued a Tony ballot.
"We should have done something about this a long time ago," says one producer. "Right now, the system just isn't fair."