Transfers highlight PR vagaries

Sinn Fein Galway West candidate Trevor O Clochartaigh with party member Stephanie Flaherty Klapp at the Galway West count in the Bailey Allen Hall at NUI Galway.
Sinn Fein Galway West candidate Trevor O Clochartaigh with party member Stephanie Flaherty Klapp at the Galway West count in the Bailey Allen Hall at NUI Galway.

The fourth most popular candidate in Galway West, based on first preference votes cast, did not get elected, but the seventh most popular candidate did, highlighting the importance of transfers under proportional representation single transferable vote (PR-STV).

Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh was fourth after the first count with 5,755 first preferences but wasn’t elected. Catherine Connolly (Ind), who was fifth after the first count, leapfrogged Ó Clochartaigh and took the fourth seat; and Hildegarde Naughton (FG), who was seventh after the first count, through transfers, jumped ahead of Ó Clochartaigh and her party running mate John O’Mahony to take the fifth seat.

Naughton took 4,567 first preferences, 167 fewer than the sixth placed candidate, O’Mahony, and 1,188 fewer than Ó Clochartaigh but when the lowest placed candidates were eliminated, one by one, she was more transfer friendly and took the seat.

In a first-past-the-post scenario, as in England, Ó Clochartaigh would be a Dáil Deputy.

Under PR-STV, voters indicate the order of choice of their candidates by writing 1 in the box beside their preferred candidate. And if they wish voters, can write 2, 3, 4 and so on down the line to their next preferred candidates. This instructs the returning officer to transfer your vote to your second and subsequent choices if your first choice is elected or eliminated. The unpredictability of the destination of transfers of eliminated candidates’ votes is what makes election count so exciting.

The battle for transfers between Catherine Connolly (Ind) and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF) was fascinating – a game of cat and mouse.

Ó Clochartaigh polled 5,755 votes and Connolly took 4,877, which is a difference of 878. By the time all the counting was done, Connolly had not only bridged that gap but overtaken him: on the 14th and final count Connolly had 10,239 votes, some 2,162 more than Ó Clochartaigh’s 8,077.

Ó Clochartaigh got one more transfer than Connolly on the second count (33 v 32), when the three lowest candidates were eliminated (Tommy Roddy, Ruairi O’Neill and Patrick Feeney); and he got six more votes than her (202 v 196) when Anti-Austerity-Alliance candidate Tommy Holohan’s votes were distributed in the fourth count.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.