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How to make your vote(s) count at the polls

What you need to know about voting in the presidential election and the two referendums.

Image: AP Photo/Peter Morrison/PA Images

ON THURSDAY 27 October, two referendums, a presidential election and one by-election (Dublin West) are being voted on.

Voting is by secret ballot for all four, and the presidential ballot and by-election are both done under the single transferable vote system.

This means that each eligible voter has one vote which can carry through a number of counts, depending on whether a candidate meets the quota or is eliminated.

Here’s how the single transferable vote system works for the presidential election (and the Dublin West by-election):

  • The voter marks their ballot card in order of preference: put a number one beside your favourite candidate, then a two beside your second-favourite, and so on down the ballot. You do not have to fill in all of the spaces, but you must not duplicate the numbers (ie only one number one, one number two).
  • Only one of your preferences is active at any one time during the count. The first count starts with your number one preference.
  • If the candidate you have marked as your number one, or first preference, is eliminated then attention turns to your second preference for the second count as that eliminated candidate’s votes are distributed.
  • If the candidate you have given your second preference to is still running then your vote for them is counted.
  • If your second preference candidate has already been eliminated before counting your vote, then attention turns to your third preference.
  • This continues down the line until a candidate has been elected or all of your preferences have been considered.
  • If you want to make absolutely sure that a particular candidate does not get your vote, then do not give them any preference.
  • If you want to ensure your vote gets the greatest chance of travelling through consecutive counts and electing a candidate, then give as many preferences down the ballot as possible (which is seven in the case of the presidential election).

On the day

  • You do not need to bring your ballot card (the slip of card posted to your home with details of your polling station) when you go to the polling station.
  • However, you do need to bring a form of photo identification such as a driver’s licence or passport to show to the presiding officer.
  • You also need to make sure you go to the right polling station – check your ballot card or the register of electors for your polling station details.
  • If you make any mistake on your polling card before you cast your vote into the ballot box, you can request a new ballot to fill in. You will have to surrender the form with the error to the presiding officer in exchange for a fresh, unmarked form.
  • A vote can be accidentally spoiled by voters who duplicate numbers on the page (ie giving more than one candidate a ‘three’). You can only give one number one, one number two, and so on down the ballot. You do not have to fill all of the boxes out (ie you do not have to give a preference to all of the candidates).
  • The two referendums
  • Two referendums are also being held on Thursday. You should only mark one box on each of the referendums. If you want to vote yes, mark that option with an ‘X’. If you want to vote no, mark that option with an ‘X’. For more information on the two referendums, see TheJournal.ie‘s referendum guide.

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The counts and the quota

Counting will begin at dozens of designated centres around the country at 9am on Friday morning. Here’s what happens during the count:

  • The quota for the presidential election is 50 per cent of the total amount of valid votes plus one vote.
  • Each ballot box is opened and the number of papers checked against the presiding officer’s return list. The votes are then sorted according to first preferences and each candidate’s first preference votes are recorded. If a candidates meets the quota or receives more votes than the quota amount, they are elected.
  • The overall returning officer for the country will announce if a candidate has made the quota after the first count.
  • Count centres across the country will commence their second, third etc counts upon the returning officer’s order to do so.
  • If no candidate reaches the quota on the first count, the candidate with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated and their second preferences are distributed. Two or more candidates can be eliminated at the same time if the total sum of their votes is less than the votes of the next-lowest candidate.
  • This elimination and redistribution of preferences continues through subsequent counts until a candidate is elected.

NOTE: The presidential count and result takes precedence over the referendum counts. The referendum counts will not officially commence until after the presidential election is over, but the votes will have been separated during the first checking of ballot papers on Friday morning.

Read: What are the two referendums about? Your guide to the 27 October ballot >

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