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The votes have been cast and the count is ready to begin - what happens now?

Garda escorts, thousands of staff and boxes and boxes of votes – it’s count day.

Image: Rollingnews.ie

THE VOTES HAVE been cast and it’s all over now bar the shouting. Well, and the counting.

Boxes and boxes of votes are currently sitting in counting centres around the country, ready to be opened. As the day progresses, the counts will commence and the winners and losers will be announced.

But ahead of that, let’s take a look at the counting centres, the polling stations, the staff who work there and what happens to your vote once it’s dropped into the ballot box.

The Returning Officer

Polling centres around the country closed at 10pm last night.

The responsibility of ensuring the vote and the count all goes smoothly is that of the Returning Officer of each constituency.

The Returning Officer has a hand in all parts of the election process: from hiring the staff in the polling stations and count centres, to finalising the candidates on the ballot paper, to overseeing and delivering the count results.

It’s no small task and requires a lot of experience and work.

James Barry, the Dublin City Returning Officer, spoke to TheJournal.ie ahead of today’s action.

“It’s quite exciting, the whole thing,” says Barry.

It’s a big job.

Barry is in charge of the five constituencies of Dublin Central, Dublin Bay North, Dublin Bay South, Dublin South Central and Dublin North West.

Once the polling stations closed last night, the votes were transferred to the count centre of each constituency – where the count will take place. There are 32 centres around Ireland, with multiple constituencies being counted in one centre in some cases (for example, Barry’s five constituencies will all be counted in the RDS).

polling map Count centres across Ireland Source: Google Maps

The votes for Dublin city were transferred to the RDS by a private company last night with a Garda escort, and were kept under Garda surveillance throughout the night.

Barry says that this might not necessarily be the norm for every constituency.

Some of the rural constituencies might not be able to get the Garda backup that we can get in the city.

The count

The counts will begin at 9am.

Barry says that he will have between 450 to 500 people working under him today. Many of these are employed based on their experience from other counts, but Barry says that he employs about 20% of people with no experience.

These people can be on social welfare or have no other employment. Barry says he selects a certain number of people on this basis, and they are employed for the duration of the count.

People apply for the position by email, and the Returning Officers of each constituency hire people in the weeks and months running up to the election.

carlo count A count centre (file photo) Source: Rollingnews.ie

Boxes of votes are always counted in pairs. In the case of the smaller constituencies in Dublin (for example, Dublin North-West) there will be 30 pairs of people counting the votes – so 30 boxes will be opened at once.

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In the bigger constituencies (for example, Dublin Bay North) there will be 50 pairs of people counting the votes. A similar system will be in place in constituencies around the country.

The votes are first counted to ensure that the total votes match the amount recorded yesterday – or that “the ballot paper accounts balance” as Barry puts it.

The first count will begin then, with the votes sorted in order of first preference.

Barry says that in Dublin we should know the results of the first counts in the smaller constituencies by 4pm this evening. In 2007 and 2011 the first counts from constituencies around the country were read out from about 2pm.

The results of an Exit Poll taken yesterday by RTÉ should also be released in the next few hours.

Then there are the tallymen to consider. These are people employed by political parties or candidates to keep a track of which way to votes are going. They are historically very accurate in their assessment – usually giving an early indication of who is going to win out on the day.

tally A tallyman for Michael D Higgins watches over the presidential election count in 2011 Source: Rollingnews.ie

Between about 3pm and 7pm this evening is when all the results start piling in on top of each other, so that will be the time to look out for.

After the first count is in, there’s no telling when the vote for each constituency will be finalised. Some will be wrapped up by this evening, others will go on all night and into tomorrow.

For the more contentious constituencies, we might not know until Monday or later. Taking into account the possibility of a recount, it could be well into next week before the election is finally done.

Explainer: How does Ireland’s voting system work?

Read: Here’s the great TheJournal.ie guide to voting in an Irish election

About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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