Monday, February 19, 2018

The Italian March 2018 Election for Overseas Italians – Observations and Vocabulary Lesson


Italy is holding a general election on March 4, 2018. How and why this has come to be is better left to those more able to explain the situation than I: see, for example, Italian general election, 2018, Italy dissolves parliament for March election, and Paolo Gentiloni to succeed Matteo Renzi as Italian prime minister to see why the government was dissolved. Up for grabs in this election are 315 seats in the Italian Senate (Senato) and 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei deputati), which is pretty much everything. So much for easing in change.

Fun with the 2018 Italian political party symbols (insignia). Represented here are about 40 symbols.Fun with the 2018 Italian political party symbols (insignia). Represented here are about 40 symbols.
Fun with the 2018 Italian political party symbols (insignia). Represented here are about 40 symbols.


Origins of the election aside, there are several confusing aspects we'd like to mention as seen by folks "outside" the system.

The first confusing aspect is the sheer number of parties in this election.

I lost track after counting over 30 parties registered. reports 98 parties. Even though not all parties may be on the ballot (la scheda elettorale) for a given citizen in a given location, the choices are nonetheless overwhelming. At least, I think so. And, boy do Italians, err, I mean political parties love their symbols. It took me a couple of hours to line up all the round colorful symbols (insignia) and understand who and what ideas were behind each one. More on symbols is discussed below.

The second confusing aspect of this election is the process for voting.

This election is the first test of a new electoral law passed in 2017 called Rosatellum bis. In this law, 36% of the seats of both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies are allocated to candidates who receive the most votes, or winner takes all (collegi uninominali). The remaining 64% of the seats in both bodies are awarded proportionally to parties (collegi plurinominali) based on the votes received by each party. On the ballot, winner takes all and proportional system are combined in such a way that there are a couple of ways you can vote. As explained in the Wikipedia article on this election, you can:

I. Select a candidate representing a constituency AND select a party that supports him (there may be multiple because the candidate may be in coalition with different parties). Therefore, you make two X marks on your ballot. 
II. Select just a party. In this case, your vote extends to a candidate in coalition with the party. 
III. Select just a candidate representing a constituency. In this case, your vote is proportionally extended to those parties supporting the candidate.

Diagrams of how this looks on ballots is shown here in; though written in Italian, the link's images get the point across about the different choices and their implications. Some commentators are warning that voting as described in I. above is the only way to ensure your vote goes to who you intended.

Our ballots (shown below) are simpler than you'd find in Italy because they do not contain coalitions (coalizioni), and as far as we can tell, we just write our candidate's names next to the party they are associated with as well as draw an X on the party. You can find the list of candidates for overseas voters online at the Dipartimento per gli Affari Interni e Territoriali - Elezioni trasparenti site, under Circoscrizioni Estero. For Italians in North and Central American, the We the Italians site gives a nice overview of the choices of candidates and parties.

Finally, the third confusing aspect, yet also interesting, is the existence of parties and platforms focused on concerns specific to Italians living outside the country.

We are not used to thinking about the voting block outside of a country. Let's back up for a second and review the Italian voting system. Italians residing overseas (all'estero) are part of a "territory" (circoscrizione estero) that is in turn broken into four subdivisions (quattro ripartizioni): Europe, including the Asian territories of the Russian Federation and Turkey; South America; North and Central America; and Africa, Asia, Australia and Antarctic. Each subdivision has different parties and candidates on the ballot.  Of the seats in this general election, 6 of 315 seats of the Senate and 12 of the 630 Chamber seats will beelected by Italians abroad.

In the North and Central America ripartizione, we have – at time of writing this - two parties  which from their names are obviously focused on the concerns of Italians living abroad: Associative Movement Italians Abroad (MAIE) and the Free Flights to Italy (see Update below). Two of the items on MAIE's platform are, for example:

  • Eliminating the IMU (Imposta Municipale Unica). From the MAIE site: " Italians living abroad, today pay the IMU tax on their home in Italy, due to the fact that it is not considered 'first home', an unjust discrimination that must be revoked."
  • Extending healthcare to residents abroad. Again from the MAIE stie: "Provide medical care to Italian residents abroad when they return temporarily to Italy. Italian citizens must have free access to the health care system in the country even if their residence is abroad."
The Free Flights to Italy (see Update below) platform seems to be all about culture with the "... specific target for the benefit of Italian citizens living abroad: building bridges between communities through free flights to and from Italy." Sign me up for those.

However, we also took a close look at all the candidates running under the Salvini-Berluconi-Meloni coalition - voting suggestions for mom not for us, I swear - and it was interesting to note that many of the candidates' platforms also made mention of IMU and healthcare as did MAIE. Many of the candidates representing voting blocks outside of Italy are tuned into their constituents. What a concept.

Perhaps the focus on overseas voters is less surprising when we look at the numbers. Using figures from the Italian Referendum of 2016 Numbers we can say that

- In Italy there were 46,720,943 voters. 
- Outside of Italy there were 4,052,341 voters. (This source gives a 4.3 million count of abroad voters.) 
- Together, these numbers indicate that about 9% of Italian voters live outside of Italy.

By comparison, there are about 9 million US citizens living abroad. With an estimated total USA population in 2016 of 321 million, we can estimate that about 3% of US citizens live outside the USA. Given the higher percentage of Italians abroad, it's fair to say that they represent an important voting block and, therefore, it makes some sense that there are specialized parties tailored to their concerns. But, really, free flights? Apparently no, see Update below.

Ballots for the Chamber of Deputies (red) and the Senate (blue) for Italians living in the USA.Ballots for the Chamber of Deputies (red) and the Senate (blue) for Italians living in the USA.Ballots for the Chamber of Deputies (red) and the Senate (blue) for Italians living in the USA.Ballots for the Chamber of Deputies (red) and the Senate (blue) for Italians living in the USA.
Ballots for the Chamber of Deputies (red) and the Senate (blue) for Italians living in the USA.

Vocabulary and Grammar

Rather than tell you who to vote for, or who we voted for, we'll take this opportunity to highlight some of the new vocabulary and grammar we've encountered.


A plico is a group of papers or documents in a sealed envelope: a packet. In two years studying the Italian language, this was the first time I ever encountered this word. In our plico, there is a sheet with instructions that include this:

All'interno del plico troverete
  • 1 certificato elettorale
  • 1 o 2 liste dei candidati
  • 1 o 2 schede elettorali
  • 2 buste, una piccola di norma di colore bianco e una più grande già affrancata con l'indirizzo del competente ufficio Consolare
  • Il foglio informative.

This translates as: "Inside the packet you will find 1 election certificate, 1 or 2 lists of candidates, 1 or 2 election ballots, 2 envelopes, one small standard one (a security envelope) and one larger one postage-paid envelope addressed to the consulate of jurisdiction, and an instruction sheet." 

Our plico contained 2 lists of candidates and 2 associated ballots, one for the Senate and one for the Chamber of Deputies. I'm not sure under what conditions a voter would receive just one list of candidates or one ballot.

The certificate (certificato elettorale) is a sheet of paper from which you tear off the bottom part and send back with your ballot as proof that your vote is valid.

Instructions for the March 2018 election.A mailer received from a candidate running with the coalition Salvini-Berlusconi-Meloni (sounds like a repackaged version of spumone).
Left: Instructions for the March 2018 election. Right: A mailer received from a candidate running with the coalition Salvini-Berlusconi-Meloni (sounds like a repackaged version of spumone).


Contrassegni are symbols that represent each party. There are rules for the creation of an symbol, such as that the symbol can't make reference to fascist or Nazi or religious themes, and it must be a circle. I immediately started wondering if they were always circles. It's seems like a practical standardization. I looked around a bit for the history of political symbols but couldn't find much by way of standardization or  their history, though I did stumble on to the site I simboli della discordia ("the symbols of discord"), which thoroughly describes this election's political symbols (in Italian).

Some symbols contain other symbols (pulce) of parties in a sort of coalition. Examples of the ballots we received which have these are Civica Poplare or Salvini-Berlusconi-Meloni. 

The parties that Italians living in the USA can vote for in the Chamber of Deputies.The parties that Italians living in the USA can vote for in the Senate.
The parties that Italians living in the USA can vote for in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate.


Below are some of the slogans we could find for the parties we had on our ballot. We couldn't find a well-defined slogan for MAIE, Partito Repubblicano, or Free Flights. Though Free Flights (see Update below) does make liberal use of "Time to Say Goodbye" (Con Te Partirò) by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, which could sort of be counted as a slogan?

  • Avanti, Insieme – "Forward, together" [Partito Democratico, PD] 
  • Per i molti, non per i pochi – "For the many, not the few" [Liberi e Uguali, LeU]
  • Onestà, Esperienza, Saggezza – "Honesty, Experience, Wisdom" [Forza Italia, FI]*
  • Più Europa, serve all'Italia – "More Europe, Italy needs it" [Più Europa, +E]
  • Il vaccino control gli incompetenti – "The vaccine against incompetents" [Civica Popolare, CP]

* This slogan requires a comment.  Experience okay, wisdom maybe, but honesty after everything that has come out about Berlusconi?

Campaign Mailers

We received five campaign mailings. One from a MAIE candidate and four from Salvini-Berlusconi-Meloni (S-B-M) candidates. For educational purposes, let's look at one from the S-B-M camp, from Senate candidate Francesca Alderisi.  She writes:

Adesso sta a te fare la TUA scelta. Scegli con la testa. Scegli con il cuore! – "Now it's up to you to choose. Choose with your head. Choose with your heart!"

Update 3/3/2018

Alas, it turns out that the Free Flights to Italy party, a choice for North and Central American voters, is a hoax. As today, their web site has been taken down and there is no trace of those free flights - only . Here are two Italian articles detailing what's known: Free Flights to Italy, il mistero del partito fake ammesso alle elezioni and Questo partito è una truffa? The erstwhile party was the idea of one Giuseppe Macario. His running mate? His mom.  I guess - and if you read to this point you knew it was coming - Con Lui Partirà.

1 comment:

  1. Just finished my ballot and have it ready for the mail. Thanks for the excellent post- extremely helpful!