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How Tonight’s Eurovision Voting Works? Written by on May 22, 2021

For this piece ESC Insight’s Ben Robertson will be explaining how the Eurovision jury vote and televote are calculated, into the most minute of details, as they reach a climax on the Grand Final.

How Eurovision voting is calculated has changed constantly over the years. In the very first Eurovision Song Contest, two jurors from each country voted in secret on the two songs taking part from each nation. Various methods were experimented with jury voting in the early years, but in 1975 we had the introduction of the ‘douze points’ and that Borda count system of ranking the top ten entries has stuck with the Song Contest ever since.

1997 saw some countries trial using a televote to replace the jury vote, and in the coming years the televote became the method of choice for countries to cast their vote in the Song Contest. However, since 2008 some sort of jury element has returned to the competition, and nowadays we have a hybrid situation where both jury and televote have equal weight in making the total score. From 2013 to 2015, these scores were combined at a country level, so only after the show would it be clear which songs did better with jury or televote.

A small evolution to this method came in for the 2016 competition, with national juries voting as if representing the country, and the combined points from televoting amassed into one huge block at the end – guaranteeing an exciting finale to the near four hours of programming we see on Saturday night.

This method is known by some as the 200% method. That is because the national juries give out 100% of the total points each country used to, as ultimately the televote does as well. In short there are double the number of points on offer than there were in the 1975-2015 era.

This year each side, jury and televote, offers 2,262 points to the competing 26 songs in the Grand Final. The maximum score a country can get from either jury or televote is 456 points, (38 sets of 12 points) meaning 912 in total. The average score of winners in the last four years with this voting system in place is 580 points – suggesting that winners are able to get votes from both juries and televoters. Indeed two of those winners, ‘1944’ and ‘Arcade’ didn’t win either jury or televote separately, but combined had the highest number of points for victory.

Five People On A Friday Night

Each country taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest must also have a jury in their home country. The jury is made five people who must be considered music industry professionals. Often this includes people such as singers and songwriters, previous entrants are fairly common, but can also include record label executives, musicians and choreographers. A mix of backgrounds is encouraged, as is a mix of gender and age. Furthermore, all jurors must be citizens of their nation and must sign a declaration ensuring they will vote independently.

For the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest the European Broadcasting Union has changed tact and will not be revealing the names of said jurors until after they have voted. Instead competing countries must reveal the identity of their jury during the broadcast of the Grand Final (we note that the identities of the Australian jury has now been made public, but after their votes have been submitted). According to the Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Martin Österdahl, this is to “ensure the integrity” of the voting process, as it will reduce the chance of jurors being influenced by others.

These jurors will meet to watch the so-called ‘jury show’, a dress rehearsal for each live TV spectacle the night prior, where they will meet together at a location in their home country. Each person watches the show and is given a voting paper to rank all of the competing entries in that show from first to last. They each have criteria to guide them to make their ranking as follows:

– vocal capacity

– the performance on stage

– the composition and originality of the song

– overall impression of the act

However there is nothing to strictly tie down the jury to grading each of these criteria separately, and instead the jury member simply ranks each song from first to last.

This task has proven to be a challenge in recent years, with numerous examples of jury members voting upside-down – ranking their worst song as number 1. To combat this and any other mistakes, the EBU and voting partner Digame ensure a video and handbook are provided to each jury member, and a four-eyed principle of oversight takes place on every inputted vote. This does go shy of an individual two-step verification however

Once the five sets of jury rankings have been submitted, they are then transformed into the ranking that the spokesperson from each country reveals on the Saturday night. However how the jury rankings are combined is not a case of simple addition, with an algorithm being used to work out the final order. The purpose of this algorithm is to reduce the possible negative drag effect caused by a rogue negative vote by a juror, which previously meant one juror alone could nearly destroy the chance of a song getting points, and to give more weight to the songs that juror’s love.

While this change is a good one for encouraging songwriters and artists to take risks in the Song Contest, we at ESC Insight deplore that this algorithm is not publicly available (though we at ESC Insight have a close approximation). Without knowledge of how the algorithm operates jurors have no concept of how the final score is calculated, and the values of the algorithm could be changed from year-to-year to skew results towards or against more divisive entries.

Should an incident happen where a jury vote needs to be removed for any reason, a replacement jury vote is calculated based on a “pre-selected group of countries” to attempt to best replicate an alternative vote for that nation. This happened in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, when the Belarussian jury was disqualified from voting in the Grand Final because their semi final rankings were revealed publicly. The Belarussian spokesperson instead revealed points that the EBU had provided, yet “human error” meant they were given out in reverse order on the night. While never formally confirmed, the mathematics suggests this is the pooled results of all countries in the same ‘pot’ as Belarus was in the Semi Final Allocation Draw, which ensures the Semi Finals have a geographical and voting spread amongst them.

To All The People At Home

Each country in the Eurovision Song Contest also organises a televote. The televote is made up of people at home voting for their favourites. In many ways this is quite simple, the more votes you receive compared to other competitors, the more points you get from the public.

There are three ways that members of the public can vote. Firstly they can vote by picking up the phone and voting by ringing the number on screen for their favourite song. Secondly they can vote by sending a text message to the number presented on screen during the show. And the final way is to use the official Eurovision App, which is a beautiful interface which ultimately allows you to vote via text message, just in a way more user friendly than typing the number on screen.

Depending on the country you are from both phone and text voting may be available, or just one or the other. For example in Australia voting is only allowed from postpaid mobile accounts, and only via text messaging. There is also a difference in the cost in voting from country to country. And yes, as we are always reminded, you can not vote for the country you are ringing from (the same applies to jurors as well). However there is no difference in time – voters only get 15 minutes to cast their vote after all songs have been played – and there is no voting before the show, as is common with Junior Eurovision.

This is true for every country bar one in the competition. San Marino. San Marino is a country that does not have a separate telephone network to its neighbour, Italy, and therefore San Marino can not create their own televote. Despite suggestions that the broadcaster put forward to allow for a Sammarinese televote to be calculated using Sammarinese citizens, the EBU have chosen a different method. For this the EBU uses a similarly pre-determined group of countries to create the televote that represents San Marino. We at ESC Insight have previously tried to generate how that televote is created, but to no conclusive outcome. The methodology used by the EBU is kept confidential, which we at ESC Insight believe is to the detriment of the Eurovision Song Contest’s credibility.

Should a country’s televote either fail to work, or not receive enough votes to be valid, then a backup televote is generated using the same system as that above.

What if there is a tie?

If there is a tie within the scores of a national jury, even after the application of said algorithm, the final ranking of the jury is decided by the youngest member of the national jury. If, should the crazy world be as such, that there are more than one jury members who could claim to be the youngest (and, we have had former Junior Eurovision winner the Tolmachevy Twins both on the jury for Russia in 2019, so I guess it has happened), then the Chairperson of the national jury splits the tie by a show of hands.

If there is the very unlikely chance of a tie within a country’s televote, then the split between them is decided by the ranking of the national jury – the higher the jury score, the winner of the tiebreak. We do not know if this has happened previously, as only the voting rank is revealed post Contest, not the raw number of votes each song received.

What is more likely to occur is a situation where, after all of the jury votes and televotes are added together, there is still a tie for a place on the leaderboard. In that case, the first port of call is the number of televoting points received – and the country with the most points from televoting wins in that tie. If the number of televoting points are equal, then the tie is split by the country that has the most televote points from the most different countries.

Should that be equal, then the country with the most top scores, the 12 points, from the televoting public’s watching the show wins. That continues down to 10, 8, 7, 6, 5 points and so on.

Only at that point, if all things are truly equal, is the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest decided by who is drawn earliest in the running order. That’s probably the closest we will ever get to the EBU admitting that running order does have an impact on the outcome of the Song Contest. The 1969 Contest did not have tiebreak rules, and ended up with four winners. No matter what there will be a winner to each and every Eurovision Song Contest with this system.

How Are The Votes Revealed?

The voting in the Eurovision Song Contest is revealed in two ways. For the Semi Finals, the voting is revealed so only the 10 qualifiers are known, with no numbers presented (despite what happened in Fire Saga). The order of this reveal is not in a particular points order, or random order, but a decision made by the production team. Expect cliffhanger endings.

At the Grand Final, each of the juries announces their points in a predetermined order.  Previously this order was revealed on the Saturday morning to make the jury vote reveal as exciting as possible. That is no longer the case as, with the televote coming as a big bloc at the end, keeping the voting reveal exciting is less important. It is somewhat of a tradition to start with last year’s host country and end with the current host country in the presentation as we connect via satellite across the continent. The order that takes for the 2021 Contest is as follows:

Israel, Poland, San Marino, Albania, Malta (anticipate Italy to do well at the start of the jury voting)

Estonia, North Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Norway, Spain

Austria, UK, Italy, Slovenia, Greece

Latvia, Ireland, Moldova, Serbia, Bulgaria

Cyprus, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Finland

Portugal, Ukraine, Iceland, Romania, Croatia

Czech Republic, Georgia, Lithuania, Denmark, Russia

France, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands

After the juries have all voted, we then proceed to the televote. The televote is announced in one big group, not divided nation by nation. In the current format we begin this announcement by starting with the country that placed last with the juries, and eventually work our way up to the climax being “how many points did the jury winner get?” This is a good system, but we at ESC Insight propose a slight modification to this order to focus more on the songs that the public love, rather than the jury.

After this tense voting sequence, we have a winner, who then shuffles down in a wave of euphoria to sing once more to the millions watching at home.

Hopefully this guide gets you to understand the voting in the Eurovision Song Contest just a little bit more. Hopefully too will the voting system have no further controversies this year.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended over twenty Eurovision's, Junior Eurovision's and National Finals for ESC Insight. He uses statistics to explain the Song Contest aims to educate readers about what the Song Contest means to do many different people.

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