Local Council elections – getting to grips with the Single Transferable Vote

As Marsaskala grows, so does the proportion of non-Maltese residents who might not be familiar with the voting system in Malta. Young Maltese residents voting for the first time (any 16 year old readers out there?) might also be new to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, one of the fairest forms of proportional representation in the world. STV gives voters a choice among individual candidates, rather than political parties. It does this by asking voters to rank their preferences for various candidates, so that each vote contributes to the election of one of the voter’s choices irrespective of party lines. Only two countries – Malta and Ireland – use STV for national elections, although a few others use it for regional or local elections as well. But how does it work?

How does the single transferable vote system work?

In 2019, Marsaskala Local Council (LC) has nine seats up for election, and this year there are 11 candidates from across three parties. On the 25th May, voters are provided with a ballot list of candidates at the election booth. They can mark their favourite candidate as number one, their second favourite number two, and so on. Voters can put numbers next to as many or as few candidates as they like. The numbers tell the people counting to move your vote if your favourite candidate has enough votes already or stands no chance of winning.

Draft ballot paper with the list of local council candidates.

Voters can choose to mark just one box with ‘1’ next to their favourite candidate. Alternatively – and this is the beauty of the STV system – they can choose to number all boxes from 1 to 11, or anything in between (e.g. marking only 1 to 3, leaving the rest of the boxes empty) thereby ranking the candidates in their preferred order. The important thing to remember here is that political parties don’t matter – only the individual candidate’s abilities matter. Marsaskala Community and Friends has asked all candidates to reply to a list of questions dealing with local issues – hopefully some of you will use these replies to make an informed decision.

How votes are counted

To get elected, a candidate needs a set amount of votes, known as the quota.
The quota is calculated based on the number of empty seats and the number of votes cast. In 2013, the quota for Marsaskala was 720. Given that the number of seats has remained the same (9 seats) but the population of M’Skala has increased, the quota for this election is likely to be higher.

Marsaskala LC election results, 2013

Each voter has one vote. Once the counting has finished, any candidate who has more number ones than the quota is elected. But, rather than ignore extra votes a candidate received after the amount they need to win, these votes move to each voter’s second favourite candidate (this is why four of the councillors have a negative number (in red) in the image above: they were elected, and their ‘extra’ votes transferred to somebody else. If no one reaches the quota, then the people counting the vote remove the least popular candidate. People who voted for them have their votes moved to their second favourite candidate. This process continues until every seat is filled.

How should I vote?

Well, that’s entirely up to you, of course. Start by writing the number 1 next to your preferred candidate, and if you like, go on with the other numbers in the remaining boxes. As mentioned earlier, you can mark just a single vote (1), or put in the top 3, top 5, or rank all candidates from 1 to 11. Your choices will have significant repercussions, particularly if you keep to the spirit of the STV system and vote for the candidates, rather than for a particular party.

Be sure to write numbers like 1, 2, 4 and 7 clearly. If a number is not clearly written, there won’t be an impromptu debate in the counting hall on whether that’s a 1 or a 7; your vote will be considered invalid. Check out this article for examples of errors that might nullify your vote.

And that’s it….

Still confused? If you found the explanation a bit complicated (and even if you found it intuitive but you really like animals) you might find this video helpful.

Lastly, remember to take your voting document with you! No document, no vote.

Sources: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voting-systems/types-of-voting-system/single-transferable-vote/ and https://www.um.edu.mt/projects/maltaelections/stvsystem

[P.S. A longer version of the ‘Voting in the animal kingdom’ video is available here.]