The General Election Count Process.

Baron von Biffo

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There are always a number of questions about the count process at General Elections so I've put together a series of posts that set out the process to the best of my knowledge.

They're based on notes and reading from a few years ago and the law may have changes since then so they shouldn't be taken as authoritative but merely as a guide to what happens.

If anyone spots an error please let me know.

To avoid having a long and unreadable post and to help get to a specific area quickly, I've divided it into a number of posts and put an index of links to them here.

First steps.

Calculating the quota.

The First Count.

The Second and subsequent counts.

Distribution of a first count surplus.

Distribution of second and subsequent count surpluses.

Eliminations.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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First steps.

When the polls close the Presiding Officers at each polling station complete the administrative tasks. They seal the ballot boxes and put the unused ballots and marked registers in sealed envelopes which are secured to the boxes.

The ballot boxes are then taken under garda escort to the count centre. To maintain security a garda is locked into the count centre to guard them overnight.

When the count begins the morning after the election The returning officer first examines the seals on each ballot box and the Presiding Officers records from each station.

Then the boxes are opened and all the votes are tipped out and unfolded. This process is closely observed by the 'Tallymen' - supporters of the candidates - who try to record where the No.1 votes are going. Parties can gain intelligence about their support levels across a constituency as each box carries a number which identifies which polling station it came from.

When all the boxes have been emptied the votes are mixed up to avoid any geographic skewing of later distributions. Then they're sorted according to the first preference marked on them.

During the sorting, any vote that may be invalid is set aside for adjudication by the Returning Officer.

The Electoral Act (1992) defines an invalid vote as:-

2) Any ballot paper—

(a) which does not bear the official mark; or

(b) on which the figure 1 standing alone, or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the returning officer, clearly indicates a first preference, is not placed at all or is not so placed as to indicate a first preference for some candidate; or

(c) on which the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference, or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the returning officer, clearly indicates a first preference, is set opposite the name of more than one candidate; or

(d) on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector;


The valid poll is the total number of votes - the total number of invalid votes.

Index Calculating the quota
 

Baron von Biffo

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Calculating the quota.

The quota is the minimum number of votes that a candidate must get in order to be elected while there are more candidates remaining than there are seats to fill.

In the event that the number of continuing candidates is equal to the number of seats to be filled but the votes of each is below the quota they are deemed to be elected without reaching the quota.

The quota is calculated by dividing the valid poll by number of seats +1 and adding 1 to the result.

Thus if the valid poll is 10,000 and there are 4 seats the quota is calculated as:-

(1000/(4+1))+1 = 201

This is done so that each seat can be filled while no more candidates than there are seats can be elected.

Index The First Count.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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The First Count.

The first count is the simplest as it involves counting the first preference votes for each candidate.

At the end of this count the Returning Officer announces the total poll, the number of invalid votes, the quota and the number of first preferences for each candidate.

Any candidates who have reached or exceeded the quota are deemed elected at this point.

If not all seats are filled the Returning Officer will announce the second count and state whether it's to be the distribution of a surplus from an elected candidate or if a candidate is being eliminated and his papers distributed.

The Returning officer must distribute the highest available surplus if it could elect the highest continuing candidate or if it could alter the relative positions of the two lowest candidates.

Otherwise he will proceed to eliminate the lowest candidate(s)

Index The second and subsequent counts.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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The second and subsequent counts.

These counts always involve either the distribution of the surplus from an elected candidate or the distribution of the papers of an eliminated candidate.

There are no invalid papers after the first count however any paper which does not express a preference for a continuing candidate is deemed to be non transferable.

This count ends with the Returning Officer announcing the number of votes to be transferred to each candidate and their new total vote.

Again any candidates reaching the quota are deemed to be elected.

The process continues until all seats are filled.

Index Distribution of first count surpluses.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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Distribution of a first count surplus.

A surplus is made up of the votes of an elected candidate which exceed the quota. The process for distributing surpluses amassed during the first count differs from that employed in subsequent counts.

When a candidate exceeds the quota on the first count, all of his papers are sorted afresh on the basis of the second preference.

The votes transferred to the remaining candidates will be in proportion to the number of No.2 votes in the entire vote of the candidate whose surplus is being distributed.

Thus if the quota is 10,000 and a candidate receiver 12,000 No.1s his surplus is 2,000.

If Candidate A got 50% of the No.2s and Candidate B got 10% then Candidate A will get a transfer of 1,000 votes and candidate B will get 200 more votes.

Parcels of papers equal to the calculated transfer are then physically taken from the top of the piles and transferred to the top of the pile of votes for the candidate receiving the transfer.

These papers are stamped to record the count they were transferred on and great care is taken to avoid altering the physical placement of the parcels after distribution.

Index Distribution of second and subsequent count surpluses.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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Distribution of second and subsequent count surpluses.

When a surplus arises from a candidate being elected on the second or subsequent count only those papers in the parcels which gave rise to the surplus are considered for calculating the transfers.

If the surplus is greater than the number of transferable papers then all the papers in the last parcels received by the elected candidate are sorted on the basis of the next available preference. The number of transfers is calculated on a pro rata basis the same as in a first count surplus calculation.

If the surplus is equal to or less than the number of transferable papers then all the papers are transferred to the candidates receiving the next available preference.

As before, these papers are stamped and physically placed on the top of the piles of the receiving candidate.

Index Eliminations.
 
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Baron von Biffo

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Eliminations.

At the end of each count if there isn't a surplus that must be distributed, the Returning Officer will eliminate the lowest candidate.

More than one candidate may be eliminated provided that their total number of votes cannot put them ahead of the remaining lowest candidate and that it cannot save their election expenses.

When a candidate is eliminated all of his transferable papers are distributed according to the next available preference.

Again, the papers are stamped and physically moved to the piles for the appropriate candidates.

Index.
 

MVOR

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What about a case where the candidate has died? Marese Skehan is on ballot papers in Tipp but died. Lets say a large number of No. 1 votes went to her. Would she potentially get elected and a by-election be required or is she eliminated at the start?
 

Baron von Biffo

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What about a case where the candidate has died? Marese Skehan is on ballot papers in Tipp but died. Lets say a large number of No. 1 votes went to her. Would she potentially get elected and a by-election be required or is she eliminated at the start?
It's unclear because of the Ministerial Order setting aside the Returning Officer's countermanding of the poll.

At a guess the provision for the death of a candidate later in the process would apply:-

"(4) Where a candidate at a Dáil election dies in circumstances other than those referred to in subsections (1), (2) or (3) his death shall not invalidate his nomination or any preference recorded for him and if he is elected his election shall not be invalidated by reason of his death, but he shall be deemed to have vacated his membership of the Dáil immediately after his election. "

That would be as you speculated.

 

Emily Davison

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What time will we start to have an idea of who is elected?
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
It'd be fairly seismic if SF did fill out their percentage to within an ace of Fianna Fail. That will put the wind up both FF and FG like nothing else on earth.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
That should give enough time for a late brunch, a quick grease-up and into the harness.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
I fully intended to, I can assure you. Now I'm not sure I can. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
 


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