Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

How to vote to hurt Fianna Fail without helping Sinn Fein.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 3, 2009 in Irish Politics |

Remember: You must transfer to stop Mary Lou!

Remember: You must transfer to stop Mary Lou!

It would be fair to say that many Irish people don’t know how to vote properly. Sure, they turn up at the polling station and mark their ballot, but the fact that so many of them don’t fill in the ballot to the end, or nearly to the end, means that their vote never achieves its full effectiveness.

Put simply, the purpose of the Single Transferable Vote system is to help the voter eventually help elect a candidate they dislike marginally less then another fella. Simple as that. But in order to do it, one has to fill in nearly all the boxes.

Consider the European Election in Dublin. As a voter, I want to achieve certain things:

1. I want to see Mitchell and De Rossa elected.

2. I want to ensure that neither Libertas, the political wing of Youth Defence,  nor Sinn Fein take the 3rd seat. Providing I can ensure that, I would like FF to lose a seat.

3. I wouldn’t mind Deirdre de Burca, who has impressed me, or Joe Higgins, whose integrity I admire, taking the last seat.

So, what do I do? Well, first, I assume that Mitchell and De Rossa are safe. I know saying that drives them nuts, and if everyone thought that, etc, but I’m making an educated stab that my vote is most effective being used in the battle for the 3rd seat, so I vote De Burca 1, Higgins 2, and all the way down until I reach Ryan, Mary Lou and Libertas. I then put my final marked preference in the Ryan box, and leave the rest blank. It means that my vote will always be travelling to help beat FF, but failing that, will help FF over Sinn Fein and Libertas.

I know this all sounds bleedin’ obvious to most political activists, but I’m disturbed by the people I keep meeting who think that just by not voting Sinn Fein is helping stop them. Remember, if you don’t transfer to non Sinn Fein candidates, your vote is not helping to stop them.       


Jun 3, 2009 at 9:44 am

Great to hear Joe has your number 2. Between people like yourself voting tactically, and others deciding to swap to vote for Joe, Joe can push up beyond the 9%, win the seat and strike a real blow against FF.

If you’re voting green particularly for environmental reasons have a look at: http://www.joehiggins.eu/356

Jun 4, 2009 at 12:10 am

Jason, can I ask how the STV works? No sniggering. I mean, say the quota is 20,000 and De Rossa gets 30,000. So 10,000 to be transferred. How do they decide which 10,000, if you see what I mean. Assuming not all De Rossa’s transfers will go to the same people. Do they keep track of second preferences and divide them proportionately? And then what about thirds and so on? I’m sure I could find all this out on wikipedia or by spending the night in a count centre but, you know, I feel that my best option is to put my faith in your ability to explain.

Jason O
Jun 4, 2009 at 5:30 am

Oh thanks! Start with an easy one! My understanding is that the distribution of the first surplus is done proportionately, that is, they go through All De Rossa’s votes, and figure out what proportion of his number twos (That sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?) go where, and then divide up 10,000 votes accordingly. However, as that is so time consuming, I think they only do this with a first count surplus, and other transfers, third and fourth preferences in later counts are literally taken off the top of the most recent pile of votes received. That means that it is actually quite random as to who’s votes get picked, but the logic (I think) is that it does not matter from an individual voter’s point of view because their vote is either helping get one of their high preference candidates elected, or else transferring, so their vote still matters. Clear as mud, eh?

The actual details are here. http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,1895,en.pdf

I tried to read them, but started to get a nosebleed, which isn’t surprising, as maths would not be my forte. Considering that when other people were doing higher and ordinary maths for the leaving, the class I was in was called “Sums”.

Hope this is of some use, Anne. Hope I’m right too.


[...] Troublingly, the alternative of not voting/spoiling your vote is not a good option. You need to get out and vote but do it in a clever way. Jason has a quick guide. [...]

Jun 4, 2009 at 9:22 am

Actually, you should give your 1 and 2 to de Rossa and Mitchell, or they might not get elected!

There is no way to “fix” your vote on the STV system. Just rank the candidates in your order of preference and the system takes care of everything.

Jason O
Jun 4, 2009 at 9:41 am

Keith, your point is fair. I’m just saying that one’s vote could end up buried in the massive De Rossa/Mitchell expected votes, whereas if you sideline them, your vote remains active. But you are right: If everybody did that we could end up with De Burca, Higgins and McKenna to everyone’s surprise! I just go on the assumption that everyone doesn’t take my advice. Or read my blog either, the bastards. Here I am, slaving over a hot keyboard, mutter mutter mutter…

Jun 4, 2009 at 11:11 am

cut to the chase vote for Ryan

Niall Kelly
Jun 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

I think you’re incorrect about how the surplus is handled. Unless the count for the Euro elections is different from that for the Locals, if there’s a surplus of 10,000 votes, then 10,000 ballot papers are selected at random and their second preferences used.

Jun 4, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I am all for giving FF an kick in the goolies, and they will be ice skaing in hell before a transferred vote of mine ever ends up against a SF candidates name, but I am not so sure about Joe Higgins. The enemy of my enemy isn’t always your friend. An awful lot of his policies seem to revolve around nationalising everything (no surprise there, he is an honest socialist) or are as loopy as anything Patricia McKenna would suggest.

He may have buckets of integrity, but I don’t think that is enough to be voting for.

Presiding Officer
Jun 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm

What happens if De Burca (your Number 1) isn’t elected by the time the first 2 seats are already filled, say after 5/6 counts? I’ll tell you, your vote is still sitting there in the De Burca pile, and is of no help to anyone else. Therefore, yu’re not helping anyone get voted, except perhaps pulling De Burca across the line at the end.

If however, you really want Mitchell and De Rossa in, put them 1 and 2 respectively, then De Burca 3. Then your vote should help to put all 3 in.

Daniel Sullivan
Jun 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Jason, the surplus is randomly selected. It is NOT, I repeat NOT proportionate!

Daniel Sullivan
Jun 4, 2009 at 4:24 pm

The random selection is also I believe done by bundle. Depending on the bundle size, it is possible that more votes can come from one area than another. There is no legal definition of a bundle, it could be 50 or 500.

Jun 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Joe Higgins is a valuable voice in Irish politics. But he shouldn’t be elected to a Parliament he doesn’t give a damn about.


I’m going for de Burca, despite the waffle about the creation of green jobs, which is rubbish. She seems to be honest, from what I can see.

SAm Crea
Jun 4, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Thanks for explaining this to me, I just give my number 2 to a left-wing nut to keep another left-wing nut out!

Jun 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Niall Kelly: “I think you’re incorrect about how the surplus is handled. Unless the count for the Euro elections is different from that for the Locals, if there’s a surplus of 10,000 votes, then 10,000 ballot papers are selected at random and their second preferences used.”

Eh, no, Jason O’s right and you’re wrong. For every candidate who has a surplus on the first count (but only in that case) they go through all of their votes and transfer according to the proportion of the votes the elected candidate got that are transferable.

So if Alf’s got 10,000 votes and needed 8,000 and there are three other candidates, they sort all Alf’s votes into five piles: a pile for Bett, for Gam, a pile for Dell and a pile that cannot be transferred. In this example, they will transfer 2,000 votes by taking proportionately from the sub-piles. (Exception: if the number of people who voted only for Alf and gave no [or no clear] number 2 is over 8000 in which case only the transferable votes are transfered.)

Transfers of surpluses that arise after the first count are taken from the top of the pile only. To try to get an approximation of proprtionality in these transfers, the mixing of votes early in the process is vital. In practice, the main mixing is done when the first count is underway, with counters working boxes from different boxes from different areas simultaneously creating single piles of no. 1s for Alf, Bett, etc.

Jun 4, 2009 at 9:56 pm

I do not agree with your suggestion. You can never assume that a candidate is safe. Vote 1 Mitchell,2 De Rossa, 3 McKenna,4 Higgins, 5 de Burca. De Burca has no hope of being elected. The Green Party is finished.
At least McKenna had the courage of her convictions.


[...] How to vote to hurt Fianna Fail without helping Sinn Fein. – jasonomahony.ie [...]

Jun 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm



Jun 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Dont vote for facislism… Support Libertas against the economically illiterate pseudo Khmer Rouge types that knob jockey o’mahony loves

Jun 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Thanks Jason, you’ll be pleased to hear that I stood in the polling booth thinking of you.

Jason O
Jun 8, 2009 at 7:25 am

I’m touched!

Jun 8, 2009 at 7:03 pm


I would just like to mention that it seems you wanted to vote Greens and despise Sinn Fein and Libertas. Sinn Fein actually have very similar extensive policies on enviornmental issues. I do agree with you however on voting against the right wing Libertas.

I am kind of a Sinn Fein supporter – as in I vote for them because they are, in my opinion, the best of a bad bunch! I would put the greens second depending on who the candidate is. Also I don’t think that you should put down a long list of preferances, vote for people that you like and beyond that don’t vote at all. If you don’t like anyone then write that on the ballet paper and spoill your vote!

In short there is political party out there at the moment that I am completley happy with. Some, like Sinn Fein, have their good points and their bad ones, but they certainly out weigh the competition in my opiniion.



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