The voting is over, so what happens now? The count is on for 32nd Dáil
After nearly a month of frantic campaigning, the electorate has cast their ballots to fill the 157 vacant seats in the 32nd Dáil. While the process of casting a vote is relatively straightforward, the means of deciding who actually won is less so.
Since all constituencies in Ireland are multi-seat – with up to five Dáil spots up for grabs in some constituencies – things can get a little convoluted, due in a part to the mouthful that is Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV).
Used for every Irish election since 1922, and enshrined in the 1937 constitution, the unusual system is used by no one else in Europe aside from Ireland and the small island nation of Malta.
Instead of picking just one candidate, PR means voters list their first and subsequent preferences on the ballot paper.
In theory, when a party gets 10 pc of the votes, it should get around 10 pc of the seats.
In practice, this rarely is the case but it does allow small parties and Independents to have a voice at a national level unlike other electorate systems.
Once the polls have closed, the ballot papers are collected and taken to the counting centres to be sorted.
This is where things can get confusing, even for those familiar with the process.
Candidates are elected by reaching what is called a ‘Droop Quota’. This figure is set by dividing the total number of valid votes cast in a constituency by the number of seats available plus one, and one.
Why two ones? Because this ensures that the number of candidates able to reach the quota cannot exceed the number of seats.
Basically it works as follows, in a four-seat constituency were 100,000 votes are cast, the quota would be 20,001 based on 100,000/4(+1)+1.
So four candidates can get 80,004 votes in total, ensuring only four can be elected as no one else can reach the required 20,001.
The First Count
This is where votes are sorted by first preference. If a candidate reaches the quota, they are elected and, generally, carried away up on the shoulders of their followers.
Any surplus votes they had are then distributed to the remaining candidates.
The Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth… Count, ie where things get messy
Candidate A receives 1000 votes more than the quota on the first count, and after examining all of the votes, it is found that 25 pc have a second preference for candidate B and 20 pc for candidate C, and so on.
These surplus votes, picked at random, are then transferred over, so B gets 250 (25 pc of 1000), C gets 200, and things continues down until all the preferences have been moved over.
So far, so good.
Now if no candidate reaches quota at the second count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. These votes are then re-distributed based on the preferences listed, and this process continues for each additional count, often well into the night, until all the seats in a constituency is filled.
Non transferable votes
In theory every STV election should see the right number of candidates elected by quota, but in practice many voters still chose to only vote for a small proportion of the candidates on the ballot paper.
These are known as 'non transferable votes' and they often reduce the total number of votes available, which usually means that the last seat to be filled tends to be based the remaining candidate with the highest number of votes.
32rd Dáil Éireann – A hung parliament?
Some 3.3 million people were registered to vote in yesterday general election, and while opinion polls have been all over the place leading up to polling day – one thing that they have all hinted at is that the current Government parties may fall short of a majority.
In fact, none of the parties have registered enough support to easily form a government.
This could lead to the very real possibility that there will be no government when 32rd Dáil meets for the first time on March 10th.
Will this mean another election?
Probably not, as no one would benefit from another election campaign straight away. The perceived wisdom is that some kind of broad coalition will have to be reached.
This is why there has been so much talk about a Fine Gael – Fianna Fáil coalition or a Fine Gael-led minority government relying Independents for support.
How long could this take?
That is anyone’s guess. For example, from 2010 to 2011, Belgium waited 589 days a government to be elected.
Ireland has not, yet, seen anything quite as extreme. Following the 1992 general election, it took Albert Reynolds 48 days to be re-elected Taoiseach. The election before that, in 1987, it took 42 days for a government to form.