According to the Italian Constitution, the election must be held in the form of secret ballot, with the Senators, the Deputies and 59 regional representatives allowed to cast their votes. When the 1985 election was held, the Senate counted 322 members and the Chamber of Deputies counted 630 members; the electors were in total 1011. The election is held in the Palazzo Montecitorio, home of the Chamber of Deputies, with the capacity of the building being expanded for the purpose. The first three ballots require a two-thirds majority of the voters in order to elect a President, in this election equivalent to 674 votes. Starting from the fourth ballot, an absolute majority is required for candidates to be elected. The election is conducted by the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who has the authority to proceed to the public counting of the votes. The presidential mandate lasts seven years.
On June 24, Francesco Cossiga, the candidate endorsed by the Christian Democracy, was elected on the first ballot with 752 votes, becoming the first president ever elected on the first ballot. His term officially started with a swearing-in ceremony held on July 3.