Picking a Pope: Inside the voting process

Picking a Pope: Inside the voting process

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With its secret voting and smoke signals, the papal election my seem archaic. In fact, the process is a product of reforms to prevent the corruption of past centuries.

The conclave is only open to cardinals under the age of 80.  About 120 cardinals are eligible to take part in the upcoming conclave.

The word conclave is Latin for "with a key" or locked up.

The cardinals are sequestered inside the Sistine Chapel.  They have no outside contact until a new pope is chosen -- which could take days, sometimes even weeks.

The cardinals will walk in to a room, dressed in traditional scarlet robes. They will sit at tables lining the sides of the chapel.

Each of the voting cardinals are eligible to become pope.

Before voting begins, the cardinals take an oath of secrecy before receiving a small voting slip, inscribed with the phrase, "I elect as pope.." written in Latin.

Each cardinal writes the name of his first choice to be pope, all while trying to distinguish his handwriting.

Then, while holding the ballot slip above his head, each cardinal walks to the altar and places his ballot into an urn.

The ballots are tied in a bundle and at the end of the vote, the ballots are burned with a special powder that changes the color of the smoke.

Black smoke rising from a smokestack on top of the roof of the chapel means no selection has been made.

When a new pope is chosen, the smoke will turn white.

To avoid confusion, the bells of St. Peter's will also ring to announce the appointment of a new pontiff.

If the cardinals do not reach a two-thirds majority after about 12 days, they can vote their favorite in with a simple 50 percent majority.

During the conclave, when they are not meeting and voting, the electors are free to roam the Vatican, though they are forbidden from communicating with anyone outside.

The conclave will begin before the end of March.

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