In the second of two Assembly Election posts, we set out how to go about maximising the impact of your STV choices.
On 2 March 2017 voters in Northern Ireland will get the chance to cast votes for their local Assembly members (MLAs). But like a lot of things in Northern Irish politics, it’s a bit more complicated than it sounds.
In this election, run according to the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system you don’t put an X beside your preferred candidate. Instead, you number your candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3 and so on. Many people only number their top two or three and leave the rest blank.
But is this such a good idea? No. You should list candidates in the order you prefer – and carry on all the way down!
A good tip is to number your top preferences first, put your least favourite at the bottom, and then work towards the middle. It’s best to count the number of candidates first, just so that you get your numbers correct. Better still, find out from your local paper or the BBC NI website who is standing in your constituency and have a practice run beforehand.
Why go to all this trouble?
Because STV is a preferential system. You are indicating a higher preference for certain candidates in relation to others – and in relation to the preferences of other voters.
With STV, those tallying the votes have to go through several rounds of counting until all the seats are filled in each constituency. So if you don’t set out your complete set of preferences, then someone else’s preferences will prevail over yours at the later counts.
This can make quite a difference, as the number of votes needed to get a seat in the later counting rounds will be lowered, making it easier for a candidate to get the fifth place – by this time they don’t have to meet the quota.
And you should put the smaller parties higher up your list. If the smaller party doesn’t get enough high preferences to avoid elimination in the early rounds of vote counting, then they won’t be able to pick up their lower preferences and claim the fourth or fifth seat. If they do get knocked out in round one, on the other hand, your vote transfers in full to your second choice.
Finally, of course, we would say vote for the most progressive candidates in your area. Let’s remind our representatives that we want equality, sustainability, transparency, strong public services, and a politics geared towards the common good.
So vote progressive, vote small parties first, and vote all the way down!
Jenny Muir and Maurice Macartney
14 February 2017