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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.

Band of Brothers and Sisters

March 3, 2011 1 comment

With an election campaign, it is somewhat like a military campaign. The troops are assembled to head out and win the battle for votes. Trusty lieutenants huddle over maps in the dark of night organising the plan of attack. Supplies of leaflets, stickers, clipboards and pens are distributed amongst the men and women. A temporary truce is called just short of nine o’clock so voters aren’t disturbed from the main evening news by canvassers. Each night a different squad is pulled together, sometimes with the candidates, sometimes without. You venture out with people you may have soldiered with on campaigns in the past, the usual suspects, and also with new recruits to the cause. It is amazing to see the commitment of people to their party and their candidate to go out each night and seek out the important number one vote or high preference transfer.

I won’t quote Shakespeare (or is it Spielberg?) as the “band of brothers” quote is not exactly gender neutral and we didn’t shed blood on the canvass but there is a bond of friendship that is formed during the election campaign. It is something about that shared collective experience battling for the greater good together. Our belief is that our party can bring about a better Ireland and so we team up to go out and make that happen. And then suddenly when the campaign is over, the team is disbanded, they are gone and it is all a bit strange. With the election over this week I haven’t been chatting with Frank, Sally Anne, Tony, Gráinne, Dermot, Sinéad, Kingsley, Rebecca, Feargal, David, Angelina, Paul, Eamon, Ivana or the many others who hit the doorsteps during February. Most will, like myself, have drifted back into normal life with the career, family or football team now occupying their time in the evenings rather than the election. It is not quite Kayser Soze but the election like that…it’s gone.

I promise the tale of the tally over the weekend…

Election 2011

Some thoughts on campaigning in the 2011 General Election

What is the phrase ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ or is it ‘you can sleep after the election?’ Nothing like knocking on doors every evening for a month, tallying at the count and having to go again at a recount to make you a bit tired. I can only imagine how tired each of the candidates is judging by the shattered level I found myself on last Sunday after all the seats were filled in Dún Laoghaire. Now that the election is over, I can look back on the incredibly busy last month as I sit on the train travelling back from Galway where I’ve been with the day job today. But actually the election isn’t over as back in Galway West, a full recount will begin in the morning and there is the small matter of a Government to form this week.

You might ask what you bring yourself to venture out to knock on a door in the rain in February to ask for a vote. You may be surprised to hear that it is actually an enjoyable experience, most of the time! You get a chance at many doors to debate the policies and the merits of your party’s candidates. It is the change to influence the electorate. Not just vote but shape the vote. That is the theory anyway. The debate on the doorstep is certainly something that has happened in this election more than any other. The electorate is very much up to speed with the issues of the day. If this economic crisis has done anything to improve us as a nation, and I’m clutching at straws here, it is maybe to increase our vocabulary. This means canvassers need to be able to deal with conversations including words, phrases and abbreviations unheard of in the last general election like bondholders, sub-ordinated debt, austerity measures, IMF, €7 billion of adjustments, NAMA etc.

Some of the electorate are polite and say they are not interested (generally Fine Gael voters in my view), others give it “a plague on all your houses” feel. These are usually disaffected Fianna Fáil voters of which there were many during this campaign. Only one person was downright abusive and told me to stick my leaflet up my own arse but that was an exception. Many stories from potential voters are similar with most complaining about the Universal Social Charge (USC). Just as Fianna Fáil were helped by the timing of the maturity of the SSIA accounts back in the 2007 general election, in 2011 the USC is doing the opposite. One man tells me he had a sign on his door at the last local election saying for FF’s not to knock on his door. This time he hasn’t put it up as it allows him to give them a piece of mind if they do knock on the door!

The election was called finally on Tuesday 25th January. When the electorate awoke next morning their lampposts had been covered in posters. Sadly high winds arrived the following day meaning the ground was then covered in posters. Was this the Gilmore gale? The Green party’s slimmer posters seemed to survive the high winds best but their party couldn’t survive the wrath of the electorate for propping up that Fianna Fáil led government. Labour went with the Gilmore for Taoiseach posters but these didn’t weather the election campaign very well either but that had less to do with climactic conditions.

As well as having to deal with irate voters, election campaigners have to deal with trying not to lose their fingers in snapping letterboxes or snapping dogs behind the letterboxes. Juggling an election register, map, clipboard, leaflets and umbrella is a very difficult task especially when your hands are frozen. The first couple of weeks of the campaign were not the nicest canvassing weather. Some voters would look out and not like the look of the canvasser lurking at their doorstep in the dark. The wooly hat and rain jacket hood had to be replaced with a flat cap to encourage the voter to open the door. Most candidates had a few different leaflets used during the campaign and some were able to handle the rain better than others. I can see why everybody likes a summer election and why there hadn’t been a winter election for nearly two decades.

Some memorable canvassing moments included calling at the family home of the lead singer of a famous Irish band, the guy who worked for Anglo who was complaining about the 90% taxes on bank bonus and the door that was answered by a lady in a towel! We heard somebody say they were a live in maid but would pass the proffered election leaflet to the house owner. The great and the good also came out to canvass. One voter had a senator, two county councilors (one a former Minister and the other a current Cathaoirleach) plus a potential presidential candidate all stand at their door one night. I hope we got that vote! There was the night we had loads out canvassing in Deansgrange forcing a rival candidate to head elsewhere. There was the guy who said he was voting for Shane Ross until I told him he wasn’t running in Dún Laoghaire. To go with all these stories there were also people telling of struggling to meet their mortgage commitments, how their children had emigrated as there was no work for them and then there was the women who broke down in tears as she had lost her job that week. Our candidate kindly offered them a tissue for their tears.

In order to make the evening canvass with a boot full of maps, clipboards, pen and stickers, I left the bike alone for the month and drove into work before heading to the constituency in the evenings. I headed back home to wolf down dinner in 5 minutes flat while usually busy marking up a map for the evening canvass. Something I learned quickly on the canvass is that yellow highlighted is very difficult to see under the orange sodium lights. Best to go with green or blue!

During the campaign I also had to deal with people asking me was I running for Sinn Fein in the Dublin Mid West constituency. I have to admit that the Shinners’ candidate was a doppelganger for me, a handsome chap obviously. No time for Shamrock Rovers friendlies, a bit of time for tweeting but no time for blogging so I thought I would make up for that today. The leisurely evenings I desire now that the election is over cannot yet begin. When I land in Heuston this evening I’m off to an election close out meeting where we will run through local lessons learned from the campaign, before Thursday’s constituency meeting and then it looks like a special delegate conference on Sunday. Sleep will have to wait!

Tales from the Tally to come later in the week I reckon.