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Tales from the Tally

The morning of the count is a bit like Christmas Day and exam day rolled into one and that can mean a fitful nights sleep ahead of the big day. You are just hoping for a good result but there is nothing you can do to influence the outcome at this stage. You have done all the work you can do and now it is in the lap of the good or hands of the electorate.

Imagine the scene outside the count centre early on Saturday morning. It is like the build up to a football match but instead of two sets of fans outside, there are five. Each have their own colours with Fine Gael having blue stickers, no prizes for the FF and Greens colours and the People Before Profit (PWP) have gone with a shade of brown for their stickers. My party, Labour, are sticking with the traditional red stickers.

At 08:30 the doors to the count open and entry is strictly by ticket only (with no cash are taken at the styles). The tallyers file into the sporting arena (in my case the Loughlinstown Leisure Centre’s main sports hall) and take up their vantage position. Important tally tools include a pen, spare pen, calculator, clipboard, stickers, phone charger, results from previous elections and most importantly a comfortable pair of shoes.

The returning officer stands on the rostrum and goes “It’s nine o’clock, open them up” and council officials empty the first set of ballot boxes and open the folded ballot papers. They have their instructions not to “engage in conversation with politicians/agents during the count” but there is a polite hello at the start and some brief words at the end. Typically a box will contain about 400 or so votes and the number ones from each candidate are carefully note by the tallyer. After 20 minutes the first box is tallied and I post up the results on twitter (by days end I’ll pick up 15 new followers, all eager to pick up news from the Dun Laoghaire Count). I will tally three boxes only by 10:30 when they are all done.

The tally figures are shared amongst the different party’s and the first figures I get with 50% of the boxes tallied make good reading for Labour with Eamon Gilmore on a quota (20% in this four seat constituency). Fine Gael operate a slick vote management stategy which sees Sean Barrett just below quota and Mary Mitchell O’Connor on 15%. Ivana Bacik (Labour) and Richard Boyd Barrett (RBB) are on 10% with Hanafin and Andrews (both FF) and Cuffe of the Greens on less than 10%. This is crucial as being below the crucial half a quota figure of 10% will make it very difficult to get elected. We now know it will between Ivana and RBB for the last seat.

The final tally we get at around 12:45 shows that Ivana is around 150 votes behind RBB. With tally and count figures from past elections at this stage I’m optimistic that Ivana will pick up sufficient transfers from the Green and FF candidates (Cuffe and Andrews). Only at this stage do the count staff begin to count the votes and it allows us tally the second preferences. The tally of the Green vote shows Ivana getting 25% and RBB 9%. The independent candidates are transferring better to Boyd Barrett but surprisingly both candidates are getting the same percentage transfer from Andrews at 5%.

Eamon Gilmore is elected on the first count exceeding the quota by a small margin when the official results are announced at 15:00. Lots of cheering and delight with that result. However elsewhere it seems the tally is off and Ivana is actually 457 votes behind RBB. We spend a few minutes crunching the numbers and by my reckoning Ivana will lose out on the seat by less than 100 votes on around the 9th or 10th count. I hope I am wrong. The 457 gap reduces when Eamon’s surplus is distributed but widens as each candidate is eliminated until the 7th count when Ivana picks up 416 more votes from Cuffe than RBB. Ivana is now 179 votes behind. She comes to count centre and is surrounded by the media taking photos, film and grabbing quotes. She says it looks like the gap is too large and it is written up as a concession but we aren’t quite there yet.

On TV they are calling it two seats for Labour but they don’t have the tally figures for the Andrews votes and we know it is way to close to call. Ivana reduces the gap to 153 while Sean Barrett is elected. There is a flurry of optimism as we realise Barrett has a surplus of votes. This surplus of 387 should favour Ivana ahead of RBB. I’m busy crunching numbers on my calculator with about 20 people waiting on the answer. It is not one anyone likes. The surplus won’t be enough and so it turns out when the official announcement is made. We had knocked on over 10,000 doors in the Blackrock area and close to 40,000 in total in the Dun Laoghaire Constituency and it turns out 147 votes that will be the difference between winning and losing a second seat for Labour. 147 bloody votes. 147. Fuck.

We get involved in a conversation about a recount. Phonecalls are made and discussions with Director of Elections, Election agents and Labour’s Senior Council at the count centre. We feel there is enough grounds for a recount due to the small number of votes between the candidates and the slight discrepancy with the tally. We seek a recount on behalf of Eamon Gilmore. As each candidate can look for one recount, it leaves Ivana open to call for another recount later.
I wouldn’t be making my football match on Sunday not with this recount. Thankfully my manager is a work colleague of one Ivana so he wishes me well when I let him know. We head off to celebrate the election of one candidate, see how the results are going nationally and hope we will return to find 150 or so votes for our candidate in the morning.

The recount the next day sees a detailed check of the Bacik, Boyd Barrett and Barrett votes under the watchful eyes of the Labour and PBP team’s. There are some errors found and the returning officer convenes a meeting with the Labour and PBP team to explain the discrepancies. Ivana loses 8 but RBB loses 25 votes closing the gap but the returning officer concludes it won’t make any material difference. There are handshakes all round and then an announcement is made. “After the 9th count no candidate has reached the quota so I will proceed to eliminate the last candidate, Ivana Bacik”. Bacik’s transfers will in turn elect Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Mary Hanafin will then be eliminated and Richard Boyd Barrett will be elected to the Dáil without reaching the quota.

There will be some singing, there will be some speeches and there will be some celebrations. For Labour, the election will be viewed as a success as they will return the highest numbers of TD’s ever to the Dáil. But having been so involved in trying to get two seats for Dún Laoghaire, I leave the count centre profoundly disappointed. It is time to take the stickers off my car window, to clear out the boot of leaflets and cable ties. I head past the election HQ on my way home and my final act is to get out the highlighter and note the roads we canvassed on the eve of poll on the big map on the wall. It is visual evidence of the hard work put in over the past month by so many people. I shake my head, mutter the number 147 and head home. The election is dead, long live the election.

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