An American (Election) in Rome

Ah, springtime in Rome. The tulips in Vatican City. The smell off coffee in cafes. The sight of a box of ballots laying in a rubbish pile. Ah, elections, Italian style.

As everyone knows, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lost his bid for re-election to Romano Prodi. However, charges of fraud — and worries of a Florida-style recount — have been rampant. (Did all of the American political spin people go to Rome for the election?) Here are some snippets from the world media on the counting, the recounting, and the juicy charges of rampant fraud. Oh, and there are overseas ballots too!

As BBC news explains:

Some 43,000 indistinct ballots that had not been added to the count are being examined by judges in an effort to determine the voters’ intention. Their check is due to be complete by Friday. But this is no recount: under Italian law, only “contested” votes can be reviewed. Typically these are votes where the pencil cross on the ballot paper is so faint that it can be confused with some imperfection on the paper itself. Mr Berlusconi did not order this review, which is compulsory under Italian law. The law says any other election disputes have to be reviewed by the new parliament.

Following the review of contested ballots, the provincial courts will routinely double-check the official written reports from all 60,000 polling stations, to ensure that their vote tally corresponds to the results that local election officials reported to the interior ministry. This second checking phase must be over by the end of next week. The heads of polling stations gave their final count to local officials, who passed on the results by phone to the interior ministry, so the written records should tally with these verbal reports.

Reuters reported that:

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looked isolated on Thursday as allies cast doubt on his claims Italy’s general election had been rigged and initial scrutiny of contested ballots suggested they could not overturn the result…Berlusconi has said that the result of the April 9-10 vote, which handed Prodi a tiny majority, should be overturned because of “widespread” fraud. Newspapers reported on Thursday that the prime minister wanted a recount of more than one million votes, but a political source said President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had refused to grant the necessary permission. On Thursday results of the recount of some 43,000 contested ballots trickled in. In theory these could change the election result because Prodi won a majority of just 24,000 votes in the lower house out of some 38 million votes cast. However, preliminary results showed the number of votes being re-assigned were minimal and were being divided between the two coalitions. There was no evidence of the large-scale fraud that Berlusconi referred to. The recount process, which is being overseen by appeal court judges around the country, is not expected to end for several days, officials said.

I know, I know, you want the dirt. Here it is from The Seattle Times (via a Chicago Tribune report:

Italy’s hotly disputed election is fast turning into a rerun of the Florida 2000 fiasco, with the discovery of a pile of ballots dumped in the garbage on the outskirts of Rome and the politicians continuing to bicker over who won the photo-finish poll.

Rome’s authorities immediately ordered an inquiry into the circumstances under which 18 ballot boxes were found by a passer-by stacked beside municipal garbage cans near a school that had served as a polling station.

They also said the 608 valid, marked ballots, contained in boxes clearly inscribed with the words “Ministry of Interior,” would not have changed the election result and probably had been mistaken by the school’s cleaners for trash.

Rome Procurator Giovanni Ferrara told reporters the discarded votes already had been counted and would have no effect on the still uncertain outcome of the election, which left-of-center leader Romano Prodi says he won by a wafer-thin margin of 0.6 percent.

A recount of the trashed ballots, however, found that the tally for the center-right coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is alleging widespread fraud, had been undercounted by one vote, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Finally, CBC News World reports on the overseas vote, which occurred in Italy for the first time.

The vote from Italians abroad proved decisive – and divisive – in Italy’s confused parliamentary elections, giving Romano Prodi the critical four Senate seats he needed to win but prompting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to claim “irregularities” that he said could nullify the vote.

The first vote ever from overseas Italians in a national election also shed some light on the constituencies of what will certainly be viewed in the future as a critical voting bloc in Italian politics.

“There’s a majority, thanks to the turnout from abroad,” said Piero Fassino, leader of the Democrats of the Left, the largest bloc in Prodi’s coalition.

The Interior Ministry on Tuesday assigned Prodi’s centre-left coalition four of the six seats up for grabs by Italians who live overseas, giving him 158 Senate seats to 156 for Berlusconi – the minimum necessary to have a majority.

But Berlusconi said late Tuesday that the overseas vote was far from decided, saying there were “many irregularities and it’s possible that we won’t be able to confirm that it has been a valid vote.”

Oddly enough, Berlusconi’s conservative forces had pushed through the law giving the overseas Italians the right to vote in 2001 in one of its first pieces of legislation. Berlusconi created a whole ministry to look after overseas interests.