06 Jul 2022

EXPLAINER: All you need to know as counting begins in the Carlow/Kilkenny constituency

Fourteen candidates are vying for the five seats

Carlow Carlow Carlow

File photo

Fourteen candidates are fighting it out for a place in the five-seater Carlow/Kilkenny constituency after the country went to the polls on Saturday for the 2020 general election.


Counting is getting underway this Sunday and here's all you need to know about how the process works...

How are votes counted in a PR election?

Ireland uses an electoral system called proportional representation with a single transferable vote (PR–STV, or PR for short).

Since polling finished on Saturday, the ballot boxes have been taken to the Lyrath Estate - the central counting place for the Carlow/Kilkenny constituency. 

The count starts at 9am on Sunday. Each ballot box is opened separately and the ballot papers in each box are counted.

The total number is compared with the total number of ballot papers issued for that box - this is done to check that ballot papers have not been put into or taken out of the box since the poll closed.

The ballot papers are then sorted into piles of ballot papers for each candidate.

The ballot papers are counted and sorted, and spoiled papers are rejected.

The total valid poll is the total number of votes minus the number of spoiled papers.

The count then takes place over a number of rounds. As candidates are elected or eliminated, the second, third (or lower) preference votes on that candidate’s ballot paper are counted.

Counting continues until all five seats have been filled.

How is the quota calculated?

To be elected, a candidate must generally reach the quota for the constituency. The last seat can be filled by a candidate who did not reach the quota if all the other candidates have been elected or eliminated.

The quota is calculated by dividing the total valid poll by 1 more than the number of available seats (if there is a number to carry over, it is ignored), and then adding 1.

For example, in a 4 seat constituency with a total valid poll of 25,000, the quota is:

25,000 (the total valid poll) divided by 5 (1 more than the number of seats), which is 5,000. Then add 1. The quota is 5,001.

What happens to surplus votes?

If a candidate receives more than the quota, their surplus ballot papers are transferred to the remaining candidates.

The surplus is transferred in proportion to how many second (or lower) preferences the other candidates received in the elected candidate’s vote. If the second preference candidate on any ballot is either already elected or has been eliminated, then the third preference is used, and so on.

If a candidate is elected at the first count, then all of their votes are used to calculate the proportion of surplus that will be given to each candidate.

For example:

Candidate A receives 6,000 first preference votes at the first count. The quota is 5,000. A is elected with a surplus of 1,000 votes.

Out of A’s 6,000 total votes, 30% gave their second preference to B, and 20% gave their second preference to C.

B receives 300 votes (30% of 1,000) and C receives 200 votes (20% of 1,000)

Where a candidate reaches the quota after the first count, only the ballot papers that brought them over the quota are examined (the votes that were transferred from the previous count).

If 2 or more candidates are elected at the same time, then the surplus of the candidate with the largest vote is distributed first.

How are candidates eliminated?

If nobody reaches the quota after a round of counting, then the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and all of their votes are distributed. More than 1 candidate can be eliminated after a round of voting if it is clear that they cannot be elected, and they cannot qualify to have their election expenses repaid.


A recount can be ordered if a candidate asks for one, or if the Returning Officer decides that a recount is needed.

A candidate might ask for a recount of a particular count, or round of voting. This means that the votes that were counted in the last round only are counted again and corrected if necessary.

A candidate might ask for a total recount, which means that all of the votes are counted as they are at the time of the request. If an error is found, then all of the votes are recounted from the time the mistake happened.

It is possible that candidates that have already been deemed to be elected, could have their election overturned because of a recount. A candidate is deemed to be elected once they reach the quota of votes.

However, once the result is declared, a recount can only happen if it is ordered by the High Court. A candidate is declared elected when the total count is complete and the Returning Officer has declared the results.

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