Three years ago I wrote this blog in the lead up to some Council elections. It got lost in the great Seedhead Arts website meltdown of 2015 so I'm reposting it here in the lead up to the Assembly elections on March 2nd. I'm going to edit it for relevance but by in large it will remain the same.
It was when they were counting the votes two council elections ago. It was a slow Friday afternoon in my office in the Waterfront which I shared with Simon Magill, we got to talking about how the votes worked. I was about 35, (let’s say he’s one or two years older), so we’d been voting for nearly 20 years and yet we had no idea how this ‘Single Transferable Vote’ stuff worked. So together we started to Google it and figure out how it works.
I remember the afternoon really vividly, although I have no recollection of the results, because as I slowly worked it out and learnt that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that uses the system to elect its councils, I became completely enthused with what a brilliant system it was.
In recent days, in the run up to the elections I have, as usual, been thinking about all the people who aren’t going to vote and with some notable exceptions I suspect that most of them don’t get how this system works. What's the point in wasting my vote? It won't make any difference.
I’ve yet to see a really good video explanation of how it works but this Star Wars one comes close and it’s nice and short
I think the bit that people find easy to understand is that the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated and the second choice votes come into play. They harder bit is when candidates get more than their quota. Let’s say my first choice vote gets double the votes needed to reach the quota, so the candidate only needs half a vote from each of the people who voted for him. Every person who voted for this winner passes the other half of their vote onto their second choice. Sometimes the way this is explained talks about ‘surplus votes’ which made me think for years that if your vote was counted after the person reached quota you’re whole vote was transferred to the second choice but it’s much cleverer than that – it’s proportional, like a little bit of everyone’s vote goes to their next candidate.
Basically what this means is that your vote, all of your vote, works. If your first preference doesn’t have a hope in hell of getting elected, then you should still put them number one because you’re vote will a) be counted as a first preference for something you really care about and b)still be counted for your second/third choice. And if your first preference is a runaway leader you should still vote them number one for more or less the same reasons.
In reality for me (except in Westminster elections) this means I can do a Top 10, like a Top of the Pops for politicians.
‘So pop pickers climbing a couple of places to number 3 is Long for being pretty good on RHI and leading the party to a better stance on Equal Marriage. Her running mate however slides further down the chart because of his hard line position on reproductive health. The UUP candidate climbs several places because of his voting record on EM and their party's ability to damage the DUP. But holding fast at number 1 is the Green Party, for being consistently in line with my thinking on nearly everything.’
Something like that anyway, make your own decisions. You can’t expect any politician to mirror your opinions, (especially here) but you can create a more individual impact by your preferences, which will be noticed and analysed by political nerds.
I think there's a couple of additional points of note since I first wrote this on the importance of transfers.
1. Turnout is super important. The extremists will ALWAYS vote. Abstaining is a vote for the extremists .
2. The DUP dominate the assembly with, what is it 29% of the vote (15% of those eligible to vote) by managing their transfers amazingly. I would suggest that if (like me) you are against the DUP more than you are for any other party you need to be just as clever. You need to transfer the whole way. Everyone but them. If you think the parties are all as bad as each other you're not paying attention. (Clue the DUP are by a distance the worst)
3. Easties. This is important. If you're interested in seeing a Green representative in Stormont for East, it's not completely mental. Last time Ross was 300 votes short, he just didn't pick up enough transfers and the APNI ran three candidates (mental btw) which split the final seat vote. I know there's only five seats, it's a stretch but the GPNI is growing all the time. It's only a matter of time imo.
In conclusion I get it. I get why you wouldn’t want to vote. I get that you don’t want to support the system... in the Westminster elections. It only takes a straight majority of morons to ruin it for everyone. The first past the post system is a bollox but we have STV and it should protect us from tyranny of the majority (never mind a tyranny of the minority), unless the majority don’t realise how the system works and don’t bother their arse to vote.