The voting takes place in the Sixtine Chapel, which is entered from the Royal Hall, which in its marvelous mural decorations is only next in beauty to the chapel, to which it serves as an ante-chamber. Ranged around the chapel are the thrones of the Cardinals, each surmounted by a canopy in token of the joint sovereignty of the members of the Sacred College during the vacancy of the Apostolic See. The Dean, or Senior Cardinal, occupies the first throne on the Gospel or north side of the altar, and after him in order of seniority come the Cardinal Bishops, Priests and Deacons, the Junior Cardinal Deacon sitting on the throne nearest the altar on the Epistle or south side.
Before each throne is a small table, supplied with writing materials, while in the middle of the chapel are six other tables, provided for the use of any Cardinals who may be afraid of being overlooked by their neighbours while filling in the voting papers. All the tables are provided with sealing wax and tapes for use in closing the papers in the manner to be described.
There are three methods by which a Pope may be electedthose of Acclamation, Compromise, and Scrutiny. In the first case, all the Cardinals leave their thrones to do homage to one of their number whosubject to his own consentthereby becomes Pope. Here there is absolute unanimity, but no instance of election by Acclamation has occurred for about three hundred years.
The method of Compromise is only adopted in the case of an extremely protracted election, when there seems no prospect of a two-thirds majority agreeing upon any one candidate. The Cardinals then appoint a small committee to settle the matter, and pledge themselves to accept its decision.
The usual method is that of Scrutiny, or ballot. The rules are that every Cardinal present must vote, no one can vote for himself, a two-thirds majority is necessary for an election, and the voting must be absolutely secret.
It is to secure the last of these conditions that a very ingenious voting paper has been adopted. It is divided into three compartments, in the first of which the Cardinal writes his own name, in the second that of the candidate for whom he votes, and in the third a motto and number.
The first and third compartments are then folded twice and sealed down at both sides, so that only the middle compartment can be seen by the scrutineers. The back of the voting paper, behind the spaces for the name and motto of the voter, is covered with fancy printing that the writing may not show through.
Although the instructions for filling in, folding and sealing these voting papers are most clear and precise, a surprising number of mistakes sometimes occur. At the Conclave that elected Leo XII, several papers in the first scrutiny were rejected because improperly sealed; in the second scrutiny one of them was utterly illegible; and in the third one of the electors were found to have voted for Cardinal Nobody!
At each assembly of the Conclave, three Cardinals are elected as scrutineers, and three as infirmarians. The duty of the latter is to take the votes of any of the Cardinals who may be confined to their cells through sickness.
In voting, the electors in order of seniority go to the altar, where each kneels for a few moments in private prayer. He then rises and holds his voting paper over a large chalice which stands on the altar, and audibly takes oath that he is voting for the man he sincerely believes to be the most suitable; after which he places the paper on the paten and lets it slide into the chalice.