Ireland is voting for a new government Friday, but the country might not know the full official results until Monday — and the government won’t take shape until next month, if one can even be formed. The AP explains some of the peculiarities of Ireland’s democracy and its slow dance with election results. In Ireland’s system of proportional representation, voters get one ballot but can vote for as many listed candidates as they like in order of preference. You literally can vote for every single politician with a hand-written No. 1, 2, 3 and so on. The multi-numbered ballots mean they must be counted in multiple rounds. At first the total number of votes cast in a district is calculated. This is divided by the number of seats in that district, which produces a quota, which is the target needed to win a seat. If the winning candidate in the first count gets more votes than the quota, their surplus votes are redistributed to lower-ranking candidates, starting with the No. 2s registered on the winning candidate’s ballot. And if there is no winner in a round, they eliminate a losing candidate at the bottom of the list and the No. 2s on those ballots are transferred to other candidates.
The goal is to fill all 158 seats in Dail Eireann, the key lower house of parliament that elects the government, with as wide a spread of representation as possible. Some of Ireland’s 40 districts produce three lawmakers, others four, the craziest ones five. Not even the canniest analyst can accurately predict who wins that fifth seat, because these “winners” may be profoundly unpopular figures who received few No. 1 votes, but eventually scrape together enough lower-level vote transfers to eke out a victory.
Ireland is a high-tech hub, but the Irish love low-tech elections. In 2002, the government started to purchase 7,500 computerized polling booths but the system aroused a wave of Luddite fears backed by analysts’ warnings that the system could be hacked. Politics buffs complained, in all seriousness, that e-voting would allow the results to come in much too quickly, depriving the nation of a weekend-long fest of savory speculation over who might win that last seat in Galway.
The electronic polls were mothballed in 2004 without ever experiencing full-fledged battle at an eventual cost exceeding 55 million euros ($60 million). They were sold to scrap merchants in 2012 for 70,267 euros (about $77,000). Irish elections remain a pencil-only affair with armies of real human beings eyeing the ballots, over and over, into the night.