The very first contest in Lugano in 1956 saw a win for the Swiss hosts, but the voting method used is still shrouded in secrecy. All we know is that Lys Assia won, the remainder is lost in the mists of time.
In 1957, the first known system was introduced. Each country had a jury of 10 members and each juror chose their favourite song, so in effect each country had 10 votes to award. This system was used on and off until 1974.
In the early sixties the organisers clearly thought that this system was not perfect, and some other voting systems were tried. In 1962 juries awarded 3-2-1 to their favourite three songs. The next year that became 5-4-3-2-1 to their favourite five. 1964 brought yet another change as 5-3-1 was awarded to the juries’ top three. The EBU clearly approved of this method as it was retained for the next two contests, although allowing each jury to cast votes for just three countries led to a rash of nul pointers in this era.
After some serious Scandinavian block voting in 1966, the next year saw a return to the late fifties method of 10 jurors, 10 votes. This was completely found out in 1969 when four countries tied for victory and there was no mechanism to split them, so we had four winners!. Amazing that it took so long to happen with so few votes to allocate.
In 1970 the same system endured, but four nations boycotted after the 1969 debacle so the EBU looked for another system. This was debuted in 1971 and lasted for three years. Each country had just two jury members and they were flown to the venue of the contest and placed in a TV studio near the auditorium. There were rules about the age mix but essentially just 2 people from each country decided the winner of the Grand Prix. Each one awarded between one and five points to each song. This meant that “nul points” was impossible during this era as even the least popular song would receive at least two points from every other nation. This system was called into question after the very close 1973 result when three songs were in close contention for victory and all came down to the predilections of a few jurors.
The EBU were thinking about a solution but it wasn’t ready for 1974 so we returned for one year only to the 10 jurors – 10 votes system used prior to 1971. But 1975 saw the advent of the system that has now been in place for thirty-five years and must be regarded as the most successful. Each country ranks the other songs, and to it’s favourite it awards 12 points. The second favourite receives 10 points, then 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 for the remainder of the ten favourite songs. This method has been seen to produce a clear winner, while also rewarding the least popular songs with a few votes (usually!).
Although this method of distributing points remains in place, Eurovision’s fifth decade has seen a massive shift from juries to a public telephone vote. This was first pioneered in 1997 and until 2009 was obligatory unless phone systems in a specific country are inadequate. Now, after the last song has been performed, a brief reprise of all songs is shown together with telephone numbers to vote for them. This development has brought some controversy as in some years the very early sung songs did very badly and the very late songs very well. At the same time, the importance of the song itself has diminished as presentation and stage effects have become more crucial to success.
2004 saw the first ever “semi-final” where 22 countries fought for 10 places in the grand final to join the 14 already there. This was quite unlike the pre-selections of 1993 and 1996. This time the qualifier was broadcast to 33 of the 36 participating countries and all got to vote. The final saw votes being delivered from all 36 countries including those eliminated in the semi. After the 2007 contest, amid growing fears about neighbour and ex-pat voting, one semi-final became two with “seeding” to split the countries most likely to vote for each other.
2009 saw the revival of juries to provide 50% of each country’s vote, and after being generally well received this system has been retained to the present day, with a twist in 2016. It’s no accident that during this period both Norway and Germany won the contest (both songs going on to be huge chart hits in many nations, in comparison to the flops of the 2007 and 2008 winners), both without large ex-patriot communities, while the likes of Turkey, Armenia and the ex-Yugoslav republics found that final qualification was no longer a given.
The 2016 contest saw a fresh approach intended to make the voting more exciting. Rather than merging their jury and televote, each country cast two sets of votes. The jury votes were announced in the normal fashion and the televotes received by each country were totted up and announced as one total, in reverse order.