How the papal conclave vote works
Cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel for a secret conclave on Tuesday to elect the successor to Benedict XVI will vote four times a day.
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the voting process:
- Two masters of ceremonies, among the few non-cardinals allowed into the chapel at the start of the voting session, distribute paper ballots to the 115 cardinal electors.
- Lots are drawn to select nine of the cardinals, three of whom will serve as “scrutineers”, three “infirmarii” to collect the votes of cardinals who fall ill, and three “revisers” who check the ballot counting down by the scrutineers.
- Cardinals are given rectangular ballots inscribed at the top with the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem (“I elect as supreme pontiff”) with a blank space underneath.
- After all non-cardinals have left the chapel, they write down the name of their choice for future pope, preferably in handwriting which cannot be identified as their own, and fold the ballot paper twice.
- Each cardinal takes it in turns to walk to the altar, carrying his vote in the air so that it can be clearly seen, and says aloud the following oath: “I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” — The electors place their folded papers on a plate, which is used to tip the ballots into a silver urn on the altar, in front of scrutineers. They then bow and return to their seats.
- Those cardinals too infirm to walk to the altar hand their vote to a scrutineer, who drops it in the urn for them.
- If there are cardinals who are too sick to vote, the infirmarii collect their ballot papers from their bedsides — and may even write the name of the candidate for them if necessary — before locking the papers in a special urn and bringing them back to the chapel.
- Once all ballots are collected, scrutineers shake the urn to mix the votes, transfer them into a second container to check there are the same number of ballots as electors, and begin counting them.
- Two scrutineers note down the names while a third reads them aloud, piercing the ballots with a needle through the word Eligo and stringing them together.
- The revisers then double-check that the scrutineers have not made any mistakes.
- If no winner has emerged from the first vote, the electors move straight on to a second round. There are two rounds of two votes per day until a pope has been elected.
- The ballots and any handwritten notes made by the cardinals are then destroyed, burnt in a stove in the chapel, which emits black smoke if no pope has been elected and white smoke if the Catholic world has a new pope.