After your first preference, where will your ballot go?

By the time you read this, you may have already been to the polling station and cast your vote, or you could be deciding where to mark that number one on the ballot paper later on today. Are you going to give just one preference or are you going to go right down the ballot paper from one to 15? Will it matter who you give your number two to, or your number five to? The answer is yes it can, so if you do not want someone to get elected, do not give him or her a preference, it may be a long shot but your preference down the list could come into play and help a candidate over the line.

Getting the quota

The ballot papers will be sorted and counted on Saturday morning in the count centre and the spoilt ballots rejected, which will give the total valid poll for the election. The quota is decided by dividing the total valid poll by the number of seats plus one, then adding on one to the result. For example in the 2007 General Election in Mayo, which has five seats, the total poll taken was 72,086 votes, 700 of those ballots were spoilt so the total valid poll was 71,386 and a quota of 11,898 was arrived at.

The surplus and where it goes

If a candidate goes over the quota on the first count, his/her surplus votes are then transferred to the remaining candidates. This is done a proportional basis. The number of votes that transfers to the second preference candidate is a percentage of the total number two votes he/she got from the surplus, not the total vote the first candidate got.

For example in Mayo in 2007, Enda Kenny had a surplus of 2,186 votes that had marked a second preference indicated on them. Michael Ring received 1,029 votes from Kenny’s surplus. Because only the votes that put Michael Ring over the quota could be taken into account, he only had a surplus of 543 votes to distribute.

If a candidate is elected on the second or a later count, the only votes that he/she can transfer on is a surplus from the votes that elected him/her, not any of his/her previously counted votes. If two candidates are elected due to the surplus then the largest surplus is distributed first with the smaller one second. From this point on if the surplus cannot either elect or save a candidate in danger of elimination it is not distributed. The next step is to eliminate the lowest ranked candidate or candidates. When they are eliminated their votes are then transferred to their next ranked candidate.

The process will go on until all five seats are filled by candidates going over the quota, or candidate can be elected without reaching the quota when it becomes clear he/she is ultimately going to get elected and the next candidate cannot reach him/her. In 2007 both Dep Beverly Flynn and Dep Dara Calleary were elected after failing to reach the quota.

Where the votes went

In 2007 when Fine Gael returned three people to the Dáil, the party had 11,006 votes to transfer over the course of the count, 6,656 of those or just under 60.5 per cent, went to their own party. Fianna Fáil had 4,705 votes to transfer during the count with only 2,410 or 51 per cent going to their own party, 1,837 went to Independents in 2007. But with Beverly Flynn then contesting the election as an Independent it is safe to assume the vast majority went to her which helped her get elected. Interestingly in 2007 of the 3,845 votes that Sinn Féin’s Gerry Murray had to transfer once he was eliminated, 995 went to Fianna Fáil and 979 to Fine Gael, which gave both the major parties just over 25 per cent each of the Sinn Féin vote once Murray was eliminated.


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