Time for a key change? How we would reform Eurovision voting

Lizzie Lawless, Membership and Digital Officer

Posted on the 12th May 2023

Eurovision is upon us once again – everyone’s favourite flamboyant celebration of Europe’s musical talent. With quite a few ERS staff members being unashamed superfans, we thought it would be a great excuse to take a deep dive into its voting system. Plus, in the spirit of democracy, offer up our own more representative alternative.

How does the voting work?

Through a popular televote, each of the 37 participating countries awards 58 points in total – distributed using the Borda Count voting system. The contestant who gets the most votes from that country’s televote gets 12 points, the second best gets 10, the third 8 and from then on it declines by 1 point with the 10th placed contestant getting a measly 1 point.

For the first time this year, Eurovision fans, wherever they live in the world, will be able to cast their votes for their favourite songs. The ‘Rest of the World’ vote will be counted as one bloc and alongside each of the other 37 participating country blocs, will distribute their own 58 points.

Since 2009, half the points have also been decided by a Jury of Judges in each country. This was brought in to prevent a ‘bloc voting’ effect where countries in close proximity often vote for each other (for example the Nordic states often vote for one another). Each of the Jury votes are distributed in the same way as the televote.

There are problems with the Borda Count system, however. A country’s favourite song will always get 12 points. Its second favourite will always get 10. This is true if the first placed song beats the second placed song by 1 vote or 1 million in the popular vote. Plus, a country’s entrant could be 11th most popular in each of the 38 participating voting blocs (37 countries plus rest of the world), but in this case would still receive the dreaded nil points.

What’s more, a song may gain significant votes from a minority. For example, 15% of the population of the UK may be great fans of this year’s absolutely bonkers Croatian entry Mama ŠČ by Let 3 (give it a watch, trust us). This may be enough to net them the full 12 points. However, given the Marmite nature of Croatia’s offering, the other 85% of Brits may hate it but be split on who they do like. The people of Britain would, therefore, be represented as great fans of Mama ŠČ, even though the vast majority do not like them at all.

Electoral Reform for Eurovision?

Back in 2012, our former research officer Chris Terry made this suggestion for how Eurovision could be reformed:

So what if a Single Transferable Vote-style system was used for Eurovision? This would produce proportionate, fair results, taking notice of people’s additional preferences, thus creating a better, more interesting and more competitive event.

In order to do this, we would probably need to throw out the outdated telephone voting system and move to a brand new online voting system. On the website, music lovers would put as many of the euro-songs as they wanted in order. Their favourite would be number one, the second favourite at number two, etc.

Each country would continue to have 58 points to distribute. Once all the votes are cast, the amount of votes needed for an act to win a point would be set. This is the number of votes cast divided by the number of points up for grabs, plus one. Say 590,000 people voted, a song would need to beat 10,000 votes to get a point.

Eurovision HQ would count up how many votes each song won and distribute the points. For example, if an act needed to beat 10,000 votes to get a point and the UK gave Ireland’s entry 57,000, France’s entry 31,000 and Germany’s 8,000; Ireland would get 5, France 3 and Germany nil points from the UK. In a break from the current system, it would be possible for acts to get the same amount of points.

In our three-country example, 16,000 voters (7,000 for Ireland, 1,000 for France and 8,000 Germany fans) have made no impact on the result. But thanks to the way voters ordered the acts, these can come back into play.

In this scenario, we would then ask who is furthest away from getting next point. So, in our above example, Ireland is 3,000 votes from another point (they need 60,000 to get 6 points), and France is 9,000 (they need 40,000 to win their 4th) and Germany is 2,000 (they need at least 10,000 votes to win a point).

We would then re-distribute the votes of people who had France’s entry as their first choice to their second and third preferences. France’s act has 31,000 votes (30,000 which has won them 3 points and 1000 surplus votes, which is 3.2% of their 31,000 total) so 3.2% of each vote that had France at number one goes to each voter’s second choice.

If these votes are enough for an act to pass the quota we would then give them another point. Either way, we would continue to eliminate acts until all points are distributed or until the number of acts remaining matches the number of remaining points to be awarded, in which case they would all get 1 more.

Now, obviously, we have bigger worries on our mind, but spare a thought for the misrepresented and disenfranchised voters in the Eurovision this weekend. Good democracy does not just belong in parliaments after all, and the more we get used to using fairer voting systems in other areas of our life the more we may start to question why we put up with First Past the Post in Westminster…

If you enjoyed this article you can listen to Chris on his podcast The Ballot Box: Elections Around the World.

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