With the doors closed, an agreed-upon prelate offers a prayer encouraging them to think piously of the good of the universal church. He then exits with the master of papal liturgical ceremony, leaving the cardinals alone with ballots reading “Eligo in summum pontificem” (“I elect as supreme pontiff”) across the top of each card.
The votes are tallied, and the ballots are stored in urns. Inconclusive ballots are mixed with a chemical and burned to make black smoke, which prompts groans from the papal-burn watchers in St. Peter’s Square.
When the next pope is elected, Giovanni Battista Re, the highest-ranking cardinal dean under 80, will ask him, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” If he says yes, he’s expected to change his name, a practice dating back to 533, when a prelate bearing the pagan name Mercury opted for John.
The conclusive ballots are then treated with a formula that produces white smoke, the crowd outside roars, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the church’s most senior cardinal in the order of deacons, heads to the balcony to announce “Habemus papam” — “We have a pope.”