Ireland votes today - tune in tomorrow for result

Way back when I lived in New York there used to be a television ad for a women's clothes store Annie Sez: "I haven't done it yet, but I'm dying to." That's how I feel today about voting. I haven't gone to the polling station yet, but I'm looking forward to getting there. From what I've heard in the reports on the radio, I'm not the only person in Ireland who is keen to cast a ballot today.

The polls are open until 10pm tonight (5pm EST), which means that those of you in America and Canada who are interested in the outcome of today's vote may expect the result before you sit down to dinner tonight. You can expect it all you want, but you won't be getting it.

The polls close at 10pm, but the counting of votes doesn't start until tomorrow morning Irish time. It will be a number of hours before any results start to come in, so you should contain your excitement until you have had your bagel and coffee tomorrow morning.

Our voting system is a bit antiquated, but I like it. If you're a politics junkie it's a great spectacle. The only real drawback is having to wait until the day after the vote for the excitement to start.

Ireland uses a proportional representation system with a single transferable vote. What this means to the voter is that you don't make a simple choice of one candidate, but that you rank the candidates in order of your preference. {If you want a detailed explanation - it's really complex and I have yet to read an explanation that hasn't had some comments taking issue with the explanation - go here.}

Even though that may sound straight forward, the implications are endless rounds of counting and recounting ballots as those with low totals are eliminated and second choices, then third choices, etc. on those ballots are then counted. The number of candidates on the ballot and to be elected varies by constituency. In Wicklow - where I live - there are 24 candidates seeking 5 seats in the parliament (Dáil).

From what I can determine, most people only rank their top two, three or four candidates. In the past I have ranked them all as I find it easier to know who least want to see win than who I want to win.

This process makes the pre-election polls a little less accurate as pollsters only ask about the Number 1 preferences, but the 2, 3 & 4 preferences are crucial. Very few candidates get enough first preferences to get elected in the first round.

All of the ballots are paper with pencil markings and all the counting is by hand, which is why it can take so long to get a result. It's all very low tech, but to the political junkie the coverage is compelling as experts pronounce on what will happen in transfers between candidates in the same party, across party lines and based on rural vs urban, the town or village the candidates come from.

Once the official numbers start coming in, they provide further analysis on trends, etc. It's amazing how riveting it can be as you listen to the various party representatives, journalists and academics talk excitedly about what neighborhood or hamlet a certain unopened ballot box comes from.

The show starts early tomorrow, but it won't really heat up until afternoon.

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