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Date Posted: 18:33:18 06/04/02 Tue
Subject: How PR & Irish Election System works (from RTE)
The Irish Electoral System - PR-STV
The Proportional Representation with Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) system predates the foundation of the Irish Free State. The abortive Home Rule Bill in 1912 contained certain features of PR-STV.
In 1919, PR-STV was used for the municipal elections to Sligo Corporation. Local elections the following year saw the extension of the electoral system and ultimately the Government of Ireland Act (1920) provided for an election to the Parliament of Southern Ireland by means of PR-STV.
Despite being imposed by the British Government, the Irish electorate has shown little enthusiasm for adopting an alternative electoral system. Two referendums have been held on the issue, in 1959 and in 1968, both sponsored by Fianna Fáil.
The main argument used by the referendum's proposers was that the PR-STV system tended to encourage a proliferation of parties, increasing the likelihood of government instability.
PR vs Plurality
Proportional representation, in some shape or form, is the preferred electoral system throughout the democratic world.
The preferred choice in the UK is the plurality or "first-past-the-post" system where only one winning candidate represents the constituency.
This system can dramatically distort election results. For example, in 1997 Labour won a massive 63% of the seats with a 43% share of the vote.
How PR-STV Works
By contrast, PR-STV uses multi-seat constituencies where voters are asked to rank their candidate preferences on the ballot paper. To secure election, a candidate must reach or exceed a number of votes called the quota. Candidates who reach the quota with first preference votes are deemed elected.
The Surplus & Transfers
If a candidate is elected on the first count, their surplus, or amount by which they exceeded the quota, will be distributed among the candidates who remain in the election.
The distribution of this surplus is calculated by examining the second preferences on the candidate's ballot papers. The ballot papers are then sorted into "parcels" according to these second preferences. Those indicating no further preference are "non-transferable" and are placed to one side. The parcels are used to calculate the percentage share applicable to each remaining candidate. The actual number of votes to be transferred to each remaining candidate is this
percentage of the surplus.
Once the precise number of votes to be transferred is calculated, the ballot papers that are filed last in each parcel are transferred. This represents a "random sample" of the entire batch as the ballot papers are thoroughly mixed at the beginning of the counting process. Importantly, when a candidate exceeds the quota in a later count, it is only this last parcel of votes which are examined for the purposes of distributing the surplus.
The surplus is transferred if:
It could result in the election of another candidate
It could change the order of the lower-placed candidates or
It could result in a candidate reaching one quarter of the quota (where their deposit will not be forfeited)
Otherwise, the returning officer will proceed to the elimination of the lowest ranking candidate.
An undistributed surplus will be distributed at a later stage if it could alter the order in which candidates are elected or eliminated.
The candidate with the smallest number of votes will be eliminated first. These votes will then be distributed to the candidates, on the basis of second
Multiple eliminations can occur when the combined vote of the eliminated candidates is less than the vote of the candidate above them.
When the indicated second preference is for a candidate who has already been elected or eliminated, it is the "next available preference" on the ballot paper that is used to determine its destination.
The distribution of surpluses and the votes of eliminated candidates will continue until all of the seats in the constituency are filled. Candidates who exceed the quota at any stage in the counting process will be deemed elected automatically.
However, after the final count, the candidate or candidates who have the highest votes among those remaining will be deemed elected, even if they have failed to secure a quota.
For example, if two seats are to be filled and three candidates remain in the contest, the top two will be deemed elected, regardless of whether they reach the quota).
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