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03-02-2020, 10:22   #1
Brussels Sprout
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PRSTV - Our voting system explained

The general election is on this Saturday, so I’d like to write a relatively basic explainer on how our voting system (PR-STV) works. I know from talking to friends and family that it confuses a lot of people. I’m going to try to explain it without using any maths or too much technical jargon. I will then finish up with addressing some common questions and comments that I hear.

I’m placing this in After Hours rather than say, the politics forum, as I want this to be seen by a wider audience.


The STV in PR-STV stands for Single Transferrable Vote and that is what we have in a nutshell. Let me explain.

Single

This is not the Eurovision. When you rank your preferences, they don’t all get varying levels of vote scores depending on what number preference you gave them. At any one time your vote can only be counted for a single candidate. At the count centre this is done by physically placing your ballot paper into a pile along with all of the other votes for that candidate. On the first count this will be dictated by whoever you gave your #1 preference to. At that stage, they don’t even look at the rest of the numbers that you have written down so all that matters at this point is your #1. For this reason, your #1 preference is significantly more important than your lower preferences. At the end of the first count, candidates will begin to be either elected or eliminated from the process and that’s when the transfers kick in.

Transferable

In every constituency there will be a magical number that represents the number of votes that a candidate needs to be elected. This is known as The Quota. The actual value of this depends on how many people voted in the constituency and the number of seats on offer. It’ll be a different number in each constituency but it’s typically around the 11,000 mark. If any candidate gets more votes than the quota after any count, then they’re elected. If, on the other hand, nobody has reached the quota then the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated. In both of these scenarios votes will subsequently be transferred. Let’s look at these in turn:

When a candidate is eliminated:
The people in the count centre will go through all the ballots in the eliminated candidates pile and look for the next, lower numbered preference who is still in the race (ie not already eliminated or elected). They will then physically take that ballot and transfer it into the pile of that next numbered candidate, which adds to their vote total. If they don’t find any further preferences who can be transferred to on a ballot then the vote is effectively dead (The technical term is Non-Transferable and it’s a shame when this happens as that voter has lost their power to elect anyone else with their ballot).

When a candidate is elected:
When a candidate is elected only some of their votes are transferred (usually a small fraction). Imagine the quota is 10,000 votes and the candidate has 12,000 votes after a count has been completed. The rule is that a candidate only needs the quota number of votes to be elected. That means that they can afford to give away their excess votes to other candidates. In this example 2,000 of their votes will be transferred. Which 2,000 votes of their 12,000 are chosen to be transferred is frankly beyond the scope of this explainer.

The counts and transfers continue until all the seats have been allocated.

I want to finish by addressing some common questions or comments that I have heard over the years:

Quote:
I would like to vote for a candidate from Party XYZ but I know that she has no hope of being elected. Am I wasting my vote?
No. In this scenario give that candidate your #1 but be sure to continue your preferences for other candidates. When your #1 candidate is eliminated your vote will transfer to your #2 preference (or your #3 if your #2 has alreaady been eliminated or elected).


Quote:
I really hate that candidate from party QRS. How do I make certain that I don't help to elect them by accident?
If there is a candidate or candidates that you want to be sure that your vote will never transfer to you can simply not give them a preference. If it's just a single candidate then giving them your final preference will have the same affect.

Quote:
I like that candidate. I'm thinking of giving him a vote, either my #3 or #4
This is a common misconception that I hear a lot. As explained already you don't have multiple votes. You do have multiple preferences but it's unlikely that your #3 or #4 preference is going to help a candidate. This is because the majority of ballot papers are not transferred beyond the #1 preference. This is because they either end up helping the #1 choice to get elected or the #1 choice is the final candidate to be eliminated on the final count and the ballot is not transferred.
The thing is though that when they do transfer they are very important and for this reason you should always have plenty of lower preferences. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that they'll be used most of the time. This is the reason why the #1 preference is so massively important and why candidates explicitly ask for it.



I could write a lot more about this but this post has already gotten way longer than I wanted. I can answer any follow up questions in the thread below. My hope is that this will have helped people to understand things a little better.
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03-02-2020, 10:46   #2
Ger Roe
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Thanks for that, a very useful explanation. I never fully understood how it all works and I suspect very few people actually do.

Why is there not more official explanation of the actual vote process for every election?. Every house should get an instruction leaflet on how the system works.... we get all the carefully crafted party blurbs, but why no independent explanation of the complicated tactical vote opportunity that we are being asked to participate in - surely it should be sent out with the polling cards?

The politicians ensure that their messages are clear and understood with procedures in place to obtain appropriate media exposure for all their utterances, but no one seems too keen to actually explain how the vote process works.

In the end, they all like to defend their subsequent actions as 'the will of the people', but seeing as most people don't understand how the PR system works, how can the result be a realistic expression of their will? Would we not have more will, if more people knew how to use the process for maximum effect?

I think we have a very unique and very representative (if not complicated) voting system, but no attempt to explain to people how best to use it.
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03-02-2020, 15:15   #3
 
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Would still love an explanation on the way a surplus is allocated. Are all votes counted to determine the ratio, or just the number over the quota?
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03-02-2020, 15:17   #4
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I believe the allocation of surplus votes is a random subset.

EDIT: Correct method given a few posts down

Last edited by Collie D; 03-02-2020 at 15:29.
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03-02-2020, 15:21   #5
 
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Originally Posted by Collie D View Post
I believe the allocation of surplus votes is a random subset.
That was always my fear, as then the "every vote counts" kind of falls down.
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03-02-2020, 15:22   #6
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Originally Posted by Collie D View Post
I believe the allocation of surplus votes is a random subset.
As far as I know, this is the case.

It is the one flaw in an otherwise excellent system.

Having said that, I have no idea as to how it can be any different.
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03-02-2020, 15:25   #7
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It's not

they count all the votes again, this time counting the 2nd prefs then allocating a % of the surplus equal to that number from the total

for example

Candidate 1 is elected with 2k surplus

they count the #2 on all 12k voted

then distribute the 2k based on the breakdown

Cand 2 - 20%
Cand 3 - 15%
Cand 4 - 45%
Cand 5 - 20%

like that, they'd get a % of the 2k allocated to them in that pattern

https://www.thejournal.ie/how-does-p...19448-Feb2016/

Quote:
Surplus votes

If a candidate receives more than the quota on any count, the surplus votes are transferred to the remaining candidates in proportion to the next available preferences indicated by voters.

Citizens Information has given this breakdown as an example:

If candidate A receives 900 votes more than the quota on the first count and, on examining their votes, it is found that 30% of these have next available preferences for candidate B, then candidate B does not get 30% of all candidate A’s votes, candidate B gets 30% of A’s surplus, that is, 270 votes (30% of 900).
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03-02-2020, 15:26   #8
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Originally Posted by Wayne Icy Grocery View Post
Would still love an explanation on the way a surplus is allocated. Are all votes counted to determine the ratio, or just the number over the quota?
Surplus on first count - ratio of the full count. This ratio is only for the second preference, not the third and subsequent so when they actually randomly pick the ballots to move over you could end up with quite different results each time

Surplus on second or subsequent counts - random selection from the last bundle transferred in (as any surplus on a subsequent count will have come from transfers)

Seanad elections and Northern Ireland can have fractional transfers (Seanad has such few votes they multiply each vote by 1000 to make this look saner!); they're not used in ROI except the Seanad.
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03-02-2020, 15:27   #9
Collie D
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I stand corrected. Something I have always thought sounded like a major flaw.
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03-02-2020, 15:30   #10
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Originally Posted by Allinall View Post
As far as I know, this is the case.

It is the one flaw in an otherwise excellent system.

Having said that, I have no idea as to how it can be any different.
Electronic ones could do it better but then youve a whole other set of issues that crop up. Happy with the current setup.
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03-02-2020, 15:31   #11
 
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Votes Surplus to the quota are randomly distributed. So there is an element of randomness in our elections. An alternative would be to transfer all the votes at a fraction of the value as done in australia.
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03-02-2020, 15:42   #12
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Every day is a school day. I didn't know there were special rules for the surplus after the first count.

It doesn't really affect the "every vote counts" bit, but it would certainly be interesting to see if a material difference comes from this redistribution versus a random selection of surplus votes after the first count.

I can see the logic behind it. There's a potential for statistical anomaly.

For example, if we imagine that there are 1,000 votes to be redistributed and two candidates left to take them. The actual #2's on the ballots fall 55:45 in favour of candidate A versus candidate B.

If the 1,000 surplus is redistributed according to ratios, candidate A takes 550 votes, B takes 450.

If 1,000 votes were to be randomly selected as the surplus, then the #2 on those randomly selected ballots could easily go 2:3 in favour of candidate B (or 7:3 in favour of A)

This would result in an outcome that's actually not representative of the votes that were cast.
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03-02-2020, 15:46   #13
 
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Is it possible to view the count if you're not in any connected to a party or candidate?

Can I turn up at the count center and get in for a look?
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03-02-2020, 15:51   #14
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Originally Posted by Salary Negotiator View Post
Is it possible to view the count if you're not in any connected to a party or candidate?

Can I turn up at the count center and get in for a look?
You need a count centre ticket which is only usually available for candidates/parties and media.
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03-02-2020, 15:55   #15
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salary Negotiator View Post
Is it possible to view the count if you're not in any connected to a party or candidate?

Can I turn up at the count center and get in for a look?
It varies from constituency to constituency. It's possible in Wicklow (the count centre is in Shoreline leisure centre in Greystones). I wandered in for a look back in 2011 and 2016 and nobody stopped me.
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