“With a system so tortuously involved as this, it may seem remarkable that anyone was ever elected at all”

Another passage from Norwich’s A History of Venice, this time from pp. 166–167, describes a remarkably convoluted randomizing procedure first used in 1268 to try to remove undue partisan influences on the election of the Doge:

On the day appointed for the election, the youngest member of the Signoria [footnote: the inner council of state] was to pray in St Mark’s; then, on leaving the Basilica, he was to stop the first boy he met and take him to the Doges’ Palace, where the Great Council, minus those of its members who were under thirty, was to be in full session. The boy, known as the ballotino, would have the duty of picking the slips of paper from the urn during the drawing of lots. By the first of such lots, the Council chose thirty of their own number. The second was used to reduce the thirty to nine, and the nine would then vote for forty, each of whom was to receive at least seven nominations. The forty would then be reduced, again by lot, to twelve, whose task was to vote for twenty-five, of whom each this time required nine votes. The twenty-five were in turn reduced to another nine; the nine voted for forty-five, with a minimum of seven votes each, and from these the ballotino picked out the names of eleven. The eleven now voted for forty-one – nine or more votes each – and it was these forty-one who were to elect the Doge. They first attended Mass, and individually swore an oath that they would act honestly and uprightly, for the good of the Republic. They were then locked in secret conclave in the Palace, cut off from all contact or communication with the outside world and guarded by a special force of sailors, day and night, until their work was done.

So much for the preliminaries; now the election itself could begin. Each elector wrote the name of his candidate on a paper and dropped it in the urn; the slips were removed and read, and a list drawn up of all the names proposed, regardless of the number of nominations for each. A single slip for each name was now placed in another urn, and one drawn. If the candidate concerned was present, he retired together with any other elector who bore the same surname, and the remainder proceeded to discuss his suitability. He was then called back to answer questions or to defend himself against any accusations. A ballot followed. If he obtained the required twenty-five votes, he was declared Doge; otherwise a second name was drawn, and so on.

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Author: rfmcelroyiii

Student and instructor of economics.

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