Italy’s Electoral System: How Does it Work?

Italy is set to vote, but the electoral system could leave the country without a clear-cut winner. We explain why.

There are only few days to go before the Italian general elections and uncertainty prevails. Indeed, Italy will go to the polls with a new electoral law, named Rosatellum after Ettore Rosato, the Democratic Party’s Deputy who drafted it. The outcome of the vote will probably leave the country without a clear-cut winner.

A mixed system

The Rosatellum is a one round voting mixed electoral system. Voters choose over a third of the MPs by first-past-the-post, where candidates compete on a ballot in a district and the first one with more votes wins the seat, and about two-thirds by proportional representation, with the distribution of seats reflecting the actual percentage of votes that each list achieved.

This system, structured in such a way and valid for both the chambers, encourages pre-electoral coalitions and post-electoral bargain. Indeed, it maintains a mainly proportional structure, while the political spectrum is fragmented into three major poles that can reach the absolute majority with extreme difficulty. Also the situation in the uninominal districts is likewise unclear. Basically, to form a majority, a coalition or a party needs to secure 40% and win the battle for the single-member districts.

The Chamber of Deputies

Italy’s lower chamber has 630 seats. Among those, 232 candidates run in single-member disctricts and get their seat by first-past-the-post. The remaining 386 seats are assigned by proportional representation on a national basis, plus 12 Deputies elected by the Italians abroad.

The Senate of the Republic

On the other hand, the upper chamber has a total of 315 seats, 116 of which are assigned to the winners of the single member districts and 199 distributed by proportional representation on a regional basis (plus 6 representing the Italians abroad). Finally, the so-called senators-for-life already in charge, including former Heads of State and personalities appointed by a President of the Republic, complete its variable picture.

Electoral Threshold

If a party stands alone, it needs to reach an electoral threshold of 3% in both chambers. On the contrary, if more parties decide to form a coalition, they have to clear a 10% minimum threshold. However, in this case, at least one of the lists has to reach the 3% at the national level (or the 20% at the regional level). If a party within a coalition does not reach the threshold, the other allied parties will divide up its votes among themselves.

Proportional lists

The proportional districts, corresponding to multiple first-past-the-post constituencies, can elect a maximum of 8 MPs each from closed lists. This means that the parties directly negotiate and choose their candidates on a district’s list. Differently from what the Constitutional Court ruled for the Italicum, the pervious electoral system, these closed lists are compliant with the law as there is full recognizability of the candidates due to their explicit mention on the voting papers.

Voting Paper

Italians will cast their vote for both the uninominal and the proportional systems on a single voting paper for each chamber. Indeed, this will show the names of the candidates to single-member constituencies and the symbols of their parties for the corresponding proportional lists. Votes given to the candidate, to the list or to both of them are all valid. However, split voting is forbidden, case where the paper would be annulled. Voters can only choose interlinked candidates and lists.


A candidate, who can be expression of a single party or of a coalition, can run in single-member constituency and in up to 5 proportional districts in all of Italy. However, if elected with both systems, the candidate will obtain the uninominal seat. Instead, if this wins in multiple proportional constituencies, she or he will get the seat where the party list received a lower percentage of votes. Both genders can represent up to 60% of candidates in a closed list or in the total of single-member districts for a single party.

A hung Parliament?

In conclusion, such as it is conceived, the Rosatellum does not leave many hopes to produce a stable majority. On the contrary, it seems very difficult for the three major political poles to reach the numbers required to set up a government. The only way to overcome this situation is to form post-electoral coalitions capable to reach the threshold of 40%. However, the polls show that even the possibility of the so-called larghe intese, a broad coalition government of ‘responsibles’, is in doubt. For now, only the centre-right alliance seems to be close to the 316 seats needed in the lower chamber. Therefore, the most likely scenario is a hung parliament with the perspective of further elections in the next months.