In the heyday of
their republic, the Venetians selected their lifetime leader, the
Doge, by a complex system involving lot-drawing. The system had
developed through the Middle Ages, becoming ever more complex to
avoid manipulation, before being codified in 1268. The procedure
consisted of a series of ten ballots that alternated between
sortition and election. All participants had to belong to the
Great Council, which included several hundred members of the most
prominent families. The process might be called fetura,
for the Latin for breeding, the same method used in genetic or
evolutionary algorithms. The steps were as follows (Dahl 1994,
1. The ballottino,
a boy chosen at random, draws thirty names by plucking balls out
of an urn, thus setting the process in motion with a blind draw.
2. Those thirty
are reduced to nine by a blind draw.
3. Those nine
put forward forty names, each of which needs at least seven of
the nine possible votes.
4. Those forty
are reduced to twelve by a blind draw.
5. Those twelve
put forward twenty-five names.
twenty-five are reduced to nine by a blind draw.
7. Those nine
choose forty-five new names, each of which needs at least seven
of the nine possible votes.
forty-five are reduced to eleven by a blind draw.
9. Those eleven
choose forty-one, who must not have been included in any of the
reduced groups that named candidates in earlier steps.
forty-one then choose the Doge.
system seems devised to make it impossible for any individual,
family, or coterie to plant candidates or exercise undue
influence. However convoluted the procedure, it supported a
republican government that lasted 529 years, until 1797, when
Venice was conquered by Napoleon.
New regulations for the elections
of the doge introduced in 1268 remained in force until the end of
the republic in 1797. Their object was to minimize as far as
possible the influence of individual great families, and this was
effected by a complex elective machinery. Thirty members of the
Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the
nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who
chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and
the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more
reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the
forty-one who actually elected the doge. None could be elected but
by at least twenty-five votes out of forty-one, nine votes out of
eleven or twelve, or seven votes out of nine electors.