italian paper elections


In almost 60 years of democracy in Italy there have NEVER been any problems with the vote counts or declaration of the election results. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, which were years of strong contrasts between the two main political parties (Communist and Christian Democrats), NO-ONE ever questioned the legitimacy of the electoral results. How is this possible? Through the use of tangible ballot papers and public procedures open to democratic control: hand-written ballot-papers publicly counted (in the same room where they were voted) by randomly selected citizens

in fact up to now (2023) in Italy:

  1. The vote is considered the right and duty of each adult citizen.
  2. Every citizen is automatically included on the Electoral Register of the place in which he/she resides. No effort or procedure is required of the citizen.
  3. Voting takes place in polling stations organized by the local authorities (usually in schools)
    Polling stations are composed of several polling rooms ("seggio"), which are the electoral units where the voting actually happens. Each polling room is usualy a classroom. There are about 50000 polling rooms over the whole country.
  4. Local authorities enrol each voter on the list of the polling station nearest to his/her home. To help lazy voters do their duty. About 500 electors are enrolled in each polling room list.
  5. Each citizen is issued with an Election Card stating his/her enrolment in the Electoral Register of the assigned polling room. This card is valid for 18 elections.
  6. Elections usually last two consecutive days: Sunday and Monday to facilitate voting of people who work.
  7. Special categories of electors (soldiers, sailors at sea...) are allowed to vote in any polling room of the city they are in for service reasons. To allow people working for the Nation to vote.
  8. Special polling rooms are set up in hospitals and prisons. To allow the ill and the imprisoned to vote.
  9. All voting operations are public and any voter can be present throughout the entire activity of his/her polling room. Obviously they can also be present when their votes are counted.
  10. In each polling room one finds the following people at work:
    • A president (nominated by the Court of Appeal)
    • A secretary (chosen by the president)
    • Four assistants (scrutineers), appointed by the local authority.
      Up to the end of 2005 they were not appointed, but drawn by lot from all the electors by the local authoriry. The fact that four of the six persons involved were selected at random significantly reduced the possibility of illicit agreements between them.
    The work carried out at the polling room is paid for by the State and, except for serious personal reasons, is obligatory. Citizens selected for these electoral duties have the legal right to be absent from work to do their duty at the polling room. To help citizens in doing their duty in favour of democracy.
  11. A minimum of three of the six persons working at any polling room must ALWAYS be present. In this way, the possibility of illicit behaviour is reduced, given the need for a larger number of accomplices.
  12. People working in the polling room are allowed to vote there instead of where they are enrolled. So as not to interrupt their verification of the electoral procedures.
  13. All the operations of the polling room and the results of the count are reported in the official statement (two copies) and approved and signed by all the workers of the polling room; Official statements are also stamped on each page with the official polling room stamp. One copy of the official statement is sent to the Town Hall and the other to the Court together with all the ballot papers (voted or not voted).
  14. Each political party has the right to have a representative present in every polling room. This representative can check all the activities of the polling room but he/she cannot take part directly. They are even allowed to stand in the polling station (outside the polling room) during the night closure. So as not to leave the police forces unguarded!
  15. Members of the police forces are present in each polling station all the time (night & day). They physically protect the polling station and thus the reliability of the results.
  16. The police forces MAY NOT enter any polling room, unless specifically requested to do so by the president for reasons of public order. This is to avoid any possible intimidation of the voters and any influence on their voting (oppressive police presence actually occurred in Italy during the fascist period).
  17. At night, polling rooms are locked and doors and windows are sealed with paper tape which is signed by the polling station workers. In this way, any intrusion in the polling rooms would be noticed the following morning.

The procedures for the elections are as follows:
  1. The local authorities provide each polling room with:
    • an official polling room stamp identified by a unique (in the whole of Italy) code that, until the start of the voting, is only known to the Minister of Internal Affairs.
    • slightly more ballot papers than the polling room will actually need (based on the number of citizen enrolled).
      Each polling room validates the number of ballot papers it requires according to its the Electoral Register. The rest are left in reserve for unforeseen circumstances. The required number of ballot papers are validated by means of the official polling room stamp and the signature of two scruteneers.
  2. Throughout voting, the ballot papers can only be touched by the six persons assigned to the polling room (apart from the voters, obviously). The representatives of the parties cannot touch any ballot paper. In this way the risk of sabotaging votes and rendering them invalid is minimized
  3. During the count, ballot papers with any redundant writing, beyond the expression of a valid vote, are considered void. This ensures that the ballot paper can never be traced back to the individual voter, hence, the voter cannot be pressured into voting for any particular party or candidate.
  4. Voters must present an Identity Document and their Election Card.
  5. Once the documents have been checked (the number of the Identity Document is written against the elector's name on the Register) the voter is given;
    • an indelible pencil, so the vote cannot be easily changed. Any ballot papers marked with any other writing instrument are considered void.
    • a ballot paper which is given to the voter unfolded. Both the voter and the president can confirm that it is in perfect condition and free of any markings that could invalidate it later during the count.
  6. The elector goes into a booth and, unseen by anyone, votes freely. No voter can be accompanied into a booth unless they are blind (with the appropriate medical certificate) or handless. This is to ensure that voters cannot be influenced by the person accompanying them.
  7. After folding the ballot paper so the vote is hidden, the voter leaves the booth, inserts the paper into the ballot box, gives the pencil back and collects the previously presented Identity Document and Election Card. The Election Card is returned duly stamped and dated to demonstrate that the elector has voted.
  8. As the electors vote, one of the polling station scruteeres signs against their names in the Electoral Register. This ensures that the same person cannot vote more than once.

The counting procedures are the following:
  1. Ballot papers (voted and not voted) must remain, at all times, inside the polling room they started off in. The ballot boxes are visible to everybody at all times. Ballot papers are only taken to their final destination when the counting is over and the results of the polling room are made public.
  2. Each ballot paper is checked by all six of the polling station workers and any of the parties representatives. In case of disagreement about who to assign the vote to, the president decides a temporary "position", but that ballot paper is sent to Court for a final decision. The counting is simultaneously managed by two scrutineers who both have their own paper record. Paper records have one page for each party and candidate, each page is made of small numbered squares: 1, 2, 3, 4 and so forth. As each vote is assigned to a party (and/or a candidate) scruteeners find its page on their own paper record, cross the next empty square and loudly read its number. All the time the two voices say the same number there are no problem, as soon as they differ everybody stops and check what has happened.
    The final result of each party (and/or candidate) is simply the number of the last crossed little square of its own paper record.

    At this point the 2006 electronic data collection was carried out: the name of the party/candidate voted on each ballot paper was put on a PC. At voting closure the electronic result was compared with the manual one and in case of discordance the official result was that of the manual count.

  3. At the end of the count, each polling room sends all the ballot papers and the official stamp to the competent authorities along with one copy of the official statement, signed by all six workers of the polling room. These are kept for a number of years. The government calculates the official figures from the official reports of the polling rooms. The second copy of the statement is collected by the local authorities.

    The electronic data collection stated that same polling room would have send their results directely to the Ministry of Interiors using computers. Such data transmission was experimental.

  4. Each local authority collects the results of its polling rooms and therefore calculates the results on a local level, independently of the national government.
  5. Even parties calculate the results independently, since they have their representatives in each polling room. They can therefore compare their calculations with those of the government.
To help electors not to make errors:
  1. Ballot papers are large (40cm x 25cm) and very simple because the shape, the colors and the quantity of printed text have a great impact on the readability of the ballot papers.
  2. Electors are given a ballot paper for each election. For example when General Election and Town Council elections are run the same day, electors are given 3 ballot papers: one for the House, one for the Senate and one for the City Council.
  3. Ballots papers are coloured according to the elections they are related to. Colours are widely publicized on TV and newspapers long before election day so that electors can prepare how to vote at home (e.g. decide to vote X on the green ballot paper and vote Y on the yellow one).

that's the way italians do it!

In Italy, when the above procedures are used, electoral results are available within 6 or 8 hours. This very good speed is achieved by splitting the work into many small pieces (about 500 electors for each of the 50000 polling rooms). Voting ends usually at 3:00 p.m. and thus when Italians go to sleep the results are already known. Such results have mostly been final as vote verifications have rarely changed anything. Errors have been found in only a few polling rooms and an elected politician has never been replaced due to recounts.

Having at least 300000 ordinary people (six for each of the 50,000 polling rooms) involved in "producing" electoral results ensures that nobody can ever commit acts of wide-scale electoral fraud.

Of course, if the local administrations manage to "pilot" the choice of scrutineers, if most of the polling room workers are fraudster, if the instructions provided by the Ministry are not read, understood or put into practice, if the work at the polling room is done unwillingly, without seriousness, or without a sense of the importance of the event, if the parties representatives are absent or don't check, if electors don't care what's happening or don't take part during the count, then certainly some results at a few polling rooms might not correspond with the true result.

In electronic voting a few technicians can alter any result with a few clicks of their mouse, especially if they are allowed to access electoral hardware and software.

Here are some examples of italian ballot papers

ballot paper to elect the European Parliament

This is taken from the advertising of a political party and it shows how an elector can vote: by marking one symbol and/or writing no more than 3 names beside it .
european parliament ballot paper

ballot paper to elect the Regional Council

Electors can
  • mark the name of one candidate President of the Regional Council
  • mark the symbol of his/her coaliton
  • or mark one of the symbols of the parties supporting his/her coalition
  • in addition electors can chose a candidate to the Regional Council, writing his/her name beside the symbol of his/her party.
regional council ballot paper

ballot paper to elect the President of the Provincial Council

This is taken from the advertising of a political party and shows how an elector can vote: marking one symbol or name. Nothing else should be written.
provincial council ballot paper

ballot paper to elect the City Council

Electors can
  • mark the name of one candidate for Major
  • or mark one of the symbols of the parties supporting his/her coalition
  • in addition electors can chose a candidate for the City Council by writing his/her name beside the symbol of his/her party.
town council ballot paper

party/candidate paper record used during counting

paper record used for each party/candidate
italian paper elections