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 for a fourth year in 2012. 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.