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Voters to send 108 members to Stormont in assembly election

Published 04/05/2016

Rathlin Island polling station manager Teresa McCurdy with the ballot box in which the island's population of just over 100 people will cast their votes
Rathlin Island polling station manager Teresa McCurdy with the ballot box in which the island's population of just over 100 people will cast their votes

Electors will be able to vote for 108 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly when the polls open on Thursday.

There will be six Members of the Legislative Assembly, known as MLAs, returned in each of the 18 seats using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is also used for council and European Parliament contests.

This system aims to reduce the so-called "wasted votes" seen in the UK Parliament's first-past-the-post system.

This is a situation where many electors in traditionally "safe" constituencies find their chosen party never wins and their vote does not count towards electing an MP, or it always wins, piling up majorities of thousands of votes more than are actually needed for victory.

Under STV, instead of a majority of votes, the winning post for the candidates is the quota - the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one, plus one vote.

In all of the Northern Ireland constituencies, this comes to a seventh of the votes under this formula, meaning that any candidate passing the quota at any stage during the counting is elected.

Voters will be asked to number candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference, and the system involves two distributions of votes through many counts.

Candidates passing the quota are declared elected, and the number of their votes above the quota are then distributed to others in accordance with their supporters' lower preferences.

Low-scoring candidates are progressively eliminated, with their votes distributed to others in accordance with their supporters' lower preferences.

This means that the six people elected in each of the 118 seats will be either candidates passing the quota, or will be left when all the others have been eliminated.

:: Example of a count of first preference votes in a six-member constituency with fictitious candidates:

George Frost (SDLP) 8,264

Henry Thomas (UUP) 5,694

David Morris (UUP) 5,196

John McIntosh (DUP) 5,148

Chris March (UUP) 4,354

Chris Mills (UUP) 4,187

Donald Games (UUP) 4,161

Fred Prefect (DUP) 2,112

Maurice Massey (Alliance) 1,958

Don Donaldson (SDLP) 1,861

Les Mayor (UDP) 1,854

Jeff Sims (Lab) 1,742

Pat Reilly (SF) 854

George Goole (UDP) 852

Bob Stuart (Alliance) 742

Fred James (Alliance) 675

Stan Scott (Lab) 571

Val Alison (PUP) 560

George Frost has polled more than the quota of 7,255 - a seventh of the 50,785 turnout - and is declared elected. His 1,009 surplus is redistributed to other candidates in accordance with the second choices of his supporters.

The second count result is:

Henry Thomas (UUP) 5,695

David Morris (UUP) 5,196

John McIntosh (DUP) 5,148

Chris March (UUP) 4,354

Chris Mills (UUP) 4,187

Donald Games (UUP) 4,161

Fred Prefect (DUP) 2,112

Maurice Massey (Alliance) 1,983

Don Donaldson (SDLP) 2,673

Les Mayor (UDP) 1,859

Jeff Sims (Lab) 1,802

Pat Reilly (SF) 898

George Goole (UDP) 852

Bob Stuart (Alliance) 761

Fred James (Alliance) 688

Stan Scott (Lab) 572

Val Alison (PUP) 560

Nobody new has passed the quota this time. The lowest-scoring candidate, Val Alison, is now eliminated from the contest and her votes redistributed to other runners on the basis of lower preferences.

If there had been a number of candidates at the bottom whose total vote was insufficient to make further progress, they could all be eliminated at the same time.

This process continues with candidates either passing the quota and being elected or being eliminated.

An example of a final - and in this case 15th count - where three candidates have already passed the quota:

David Morris (UUP) 7,273

Chris March (UUP) 6,058

Chris Mills (UUP) 6,521

Maurice Massey (Alliance) 6,146

Morris clears the quota. Massey and Mills take the remaining two seats although polling less than the quota. Chris March is not elected because Morris has a surplus of only 18 votes - too few to make the difference.

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