Different election systems are used throughout the world. Our neighbours in the UK, use the first past the post method, in single-seat constituencies. UK voters can only place a mark beside the name of one candidate. Votes are then counted and the person with the highest number of votes is elected.
The Irish system is more complex. Voters are presented with a ballot paper and asked to rank candidates in order of preference. In Wexford, there are 15 candidates and 5 will be elected.
Why the no.1 vote?
The destination of your no.1 is crucial. Some candidates will be pleading with you for it. Without sufficient no.1’s, a candidate will not be in a position to challenge for a seat. Lower preference votes are only become useful if the candidate has received enough no.1’s to be ‘in the hunt’.
When does your no.2 vote (and subsequent 3,4,5…) matter?
No.2 and subsequent preferences are used in the following circumstances:
- If your no.1 candidate has been eliminated. Your ballot paper will then be transferred to your no.2 candidate. If the no.2 candidate has also already been eliminated or elected, then your paper will transfer to number 3, and so on.
- If your no.1 candidate has been elected on the first count with a surplus. In this scenario, all of the votes given to the elected candidate are examined, and the surplus is re-allocated on a percentage basis to the other candidates.
Looking back on the Wexford result in 2016:
- Referring to point a. above: Carthy, A.Byrne, Kelly, Wadding, Dwyer, Hogan, Walsh, Foxe, Moloney and Lloyd were eliminated. Voters who gave a no.1 to those people had their vote transferred to other candidates. This represents 28.7% of votes.
- Point b. above did not apply in 2016.
In 2016 in Wexford, 28.7% of no.2 votes were examined, but this was over 41% in 2011.
How important were those 28.7% of papers in 2016?
The 5th Wexford seat in 2016 was decided by just 52 votes, resulting in Paul Kehoe defeating Johnny Mythen. Those 28.7% of ballot papers decided which of those candidates were elected. In some cases, those papers were transferred from candidate to candidate until they rested with either Kehoe or Mythen. In close contests, it may come down to the difference between giving one candidate a 15th and the other, a 16th preference.
Often people vote for one candidate or one party, which is of course perfectly acceptable, but if those candidates get eliminated, the ballot paper gets placed in a cubby hole marked ‘non-transferable’, and therefore becomes useless.
So what is the message?
The statistics show that in most cases your no.2 vote will ultimately not come into play. However, you will not know this, until the count has been completed.
This is why, those who vote down the ballot paper, ensure that their paper never ends up in the useless ‘non-transferrable’ bundle, and play a greater role in the outcome.
The 2016 result came down to the difference between giving a candidate an 8/9 or 11/12 or 15/16. In 2016, those who voted all the way down the ballot paper decided the result of Wexford’s 14th count.
With 15 candidates competing for election, it appears as though the 5 Wexford seats will be closely contested yet again, and may even be decided by a closer margin than in 2016.