The UK goes to the polls on the 4th May 2017 to elect councillors across the country. For people in Scotland that means working out the intricacies of the single transferable vote system which is used here at local level. It looks complicated, but fear not, 'cos once you get the hang of STV it becomes dead easy.
Each ward is multi-member with three or four candidates being chosen to represent it. The voters cast their ballots by writing a number next to a candidates name, starting with "1" and going as far down the ballot paper as they choose, or until they run out of candidates. So as far as we, the punters, are concerned it's just a case of listing the candidates based upon how much they appeal to us.
The easiest way to get elected is to have more first preference votes than the number set by the quota, and before your eyes start glazing over, lemme quickly explain how the quota is set.
Right, you create the quota by dividing the number of eligible ballots returned by the number of seats to be filled, plus one. Then you take that number and add another one to it.
You eyes are glazing over, so let's have a concrete example: a ward has an election and one hundred ballots are returned that have been correctly filled in. Four councillors are to be elected, so you get the quota by dividing 100 into five, that being the four seats plus one. A hundred divided by five comes to twenty, so you take twenty, add one to it and get twenty-one. So twenty-one becomes the quota needed to get elected on the first round of counting in this mythical election.
A candidate who got thirty first preference votes would obviously be elected, but the beauty of STV is that the nine votes that he got above his quota of twenty-one would be distributed to his second preference candidate and could help that man be returned as well.
Once no other candidates can be elected via the first round, we go onto the second which is when the candidate who finished last is eliminated and his second preferences are distributed. If seats still need to be filled, the candidate who took the second last spot is then eliminated, and his second preferences are doled out, and so on until all the seats have been filled.
Sadly, the parties seem to think that they should only run two candidates in four seat wards, with Labour even trying to get its voters to cast a first preference for one candidate in one half of the ward, with a first preference for the other in the other half. There is no reason to do that under STV, since the system helps political parties. All Labour needs to do is tell people to vote for the party list, and if the first candidate goes well over quota, his second preferences are given out. If that candidate is then elected with votes to spare, the surplus is then given out to the third preference and so on.
Luckily for the left, a certain David Jacobsen is standing for the Socialist Labour Party, and hopefully Labour's activists will ask people to vote for him as their third preference.
Labour alone of all the parties has a very efficient electoral machine and activists who are willing to go and knock on doors to jolly the punters along. The other parties can mount street stalls, but that is not enough to get the vote out. Besides, people like it when candidates knock on their doors and at least go through the motions of trying to persuade us that they really do give a shit about our concerns.
All good fun that is coming our way on the 4th May 2017!