With the news of the Pope Benedict XVI's resignation comes the beginning of the process to elect a new one. It is a very detailed process and very secretive. We are all used to following elections with social media and twenty news networks. The Vatican does not work that way.

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Secrecy reigns supreme in this process.there will be no yard signs all over Rome. There will be no publicized debates. There will be no polls to tell us who is currently in the lead. There will certainly be no mud slinging.

Of the 194 current members of the College of Cardinals, a maximum of 120 are  will be locked inside the Sistine Chapel and Apostolic Palace during the election process. There will be no media or anyone else allowed inside. Any cardinal who turns 80 before the day the Papacy is vacated, either by death or resignation, cannot take part in the election.

The voting happens twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon until the new Pope is elected by a two thirds plus one majority. If a new Pope is not elected in 12 or 13 days the rules change to allow one to be elected by a simple majority.

The votes are written by hand and delivered to the alter one by one. Three Scrutineers (elected by the Cardinals) will count the votes. If the count is off for any reason, the ballots are burned and another vote is taken.

Here is the counting process from howstuffworks.com

  1. The first Scrutineer takes a ballot, notes the name on it, and passes it to the next Scrutineer.
  2. The second Scrutineer notes the name and passes it to the third Scrutineer.
  3. The third Scrutineer reads aloud the name on the ballot, pierces the ballot with a needle through the word Eligo at the top of the ballot, and slides the ballot onto a string of thread.
  4. Each elector notes the name that is read.
  5. Once all ballots are read, the Scrutineers write down the official count on a separate sheet of paper.
  6. The third Scrutineer ties the ends of the thread on which the ballots are placed in a knot to preserve the vote.
  7. The ballots are placed in a receptacle.

After each vote, the ballots and any notes regarding them are burned. Smoke from the burning of the ballots appears over the Vatican Palace. If no pope has been chosen, a chemical is applied to the ballots in order to create black smoke when burned. White smoke signals that a pope has been elected.