April 16, 2006

Elections Explained 

(Cut & pasted post)

My readers around the world will probably know that the result of recent parliamentary elections in Italy is being contested by some (Berlusconi and others of the center-right coalition); some even say it’s like Florida 2000 again. So, I think there is a little to explain.

The first point of contention is that the elections’ results published on April 11th are actually provisional results, based on the preliminary reports sent from the electoral colleges to the competent ministry. The final results will be known towards the end of April, when the thorough examination of the detailed vote reports will be completed. Now, usually there is a small discrepance between the provisional and final results, a few thousand votes. Considering that this elections ended with a very narrow victory for the Unione, there is a hypothetical possibility that the winner when the final result is known will be the CdL (by a small margin, of course). But for me this is very unlikely.

In Italy, votes are cast using paper ballots – no voting machines thankfully. The rules to cast a vote are rather straightforward: draw (using a special pencil provided at the polling station) a cross over the party symbol you want to vote, and that’s all.

Invalid ballots are divided in two categories that we can call null ballots (scheda bianca) and void ballots. Null ballots are those expressing no vote whatsoever and bearing no signs, writings or marks. Void ballots are those not conforming to the voting rules; it goes from people simply making a mistake to others writing slogans on the ballot itself. It is the polling station staff that decide whether a ballot is valid, null or void; I’ve been there and in most cases the situation is pretty clear.

However, at many stations counting is supervised by party representatives who can contest the classification of ballots – for example saying that one is not void, but instead expresses a valid vote. The contested ballots are put aside and re-counted a few days after the elections. The issue in this case was that a first report gave a number of 40 000 contested ballots: potentially enough to flip the electoral result over. But later it emerged that this report was erroneous (it referred to the total of null, void and contested ballots); the true number of contested ballots is of just a few thousand and rather evenly distributed among all the parties – not enough to change the result either.

So a great deal of the polemic is actually artificious, and there is not going to be a general recount because none is required.


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