Lough Neagh Constituency Profile – STV for Dunnocks

One of the less talked-about constituencies in this election has been that of Lough Neagh. You might think that an electorate principally composed of birds would have found a natural home on Twitter, and actually they have, but they’ve had the good sense and decorum to conduct their campaigns on a restricted Twitter Community. No need to have Jim Wells, let alone anyone else, sticking their oar in.

Like many Special Parliamentary Areas, the members representing the Lough had all sat as independents since the formation of the Assembly in 1998. However, unverified reports filtering through from the land-based media since 2017 prompted a change of tack and renewed seriousness. I’m sure the last thing Ben Lowry intended when he published April Fool projections of human activity evaporating the Lough by 2050 was the total realignment and reinvigoration of avian politics, but it’s a reminder that in this febrile world our words have consequences.

As it happened, a raft of gulls and terns signed up for the Alliance Party – a natural fit as a “middle-of-the-lough” party. Incumbent MLA Browneyed Gull, who had previously topped the poll with an impressive 1.6 quotas, naturally brought in a running mate, Funny Tern. The Democratic Unionist Party recruited a diverse membership of swallows, martins, herons, as well as a few ducks, falling in behind incumbent MLA Frieda Martin. Meanwhile, a Sinn Féin branch arose among the songbird population of Washing Bay, driven by charismatic local publican Jack Sparrow, who had had several narrow misses in previous elections (and with traffic).

Two incumbent MLAs Robert Swan and Atticus Finch had retired, the former returning to research in avian influenza and the latter retiring fully after a long career campaigning against shooting.

Rounding off the candidate list were four independents. I did say the electorate was principally composed of birds – as it happens the zebra mussel population of the Lough is so enormous that it’s unsurprising that the smallest proportion of interest in politics among them makes its presence felt, and incumbent MLA Deborah Mussel had been assured of a seat since 2011. Michael Fish, an Atlantic salmon, was hoping to weather controversy about his tax status; Kitty Hawk, a sparrowhawk originally from North County Limerick, had been gaining ground since her debut in 2003 and was hopeful of finally getting a seat; finally a mysterious entry Joaquín Great Cat had been entirely absent from Twitter, strangely choosing instead to campaign on TikTok.

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Lough Neagh has always taken the sensible provision of holding its election on the day before, and the count on, the May Day Bank Holiday, and both that and the precise outworking of this election have proven very convenient as it allows me to demonstrate neatly the Single Transferable Vote system, as set out in Schedule 1, Rules 44A to 44M of the Representation of the People Act 1963, as amended. Unfortunately that Act has not yet been updated on the UK Government website, but you can read the rules in the amending Order, The Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001: legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/2599/schedule/1/made (I wonder what rules they used in 1998). I’ll recount the count in present tense, so it feels like we’re doing it together, which will be nice.

Exactly 54,000 valid votes were cast. Per Rule 44E, because there are five seats, this value is divided by 6, any fraction disregarded (there isn’t one), and 1 added, producing a quota of 9,001. Should any candidate reach this figure over the course of the count, they are deemed elected.

The first count produces quite a striking picture.

Count 1
vote quotas
Frieda Martin, DUP 9141 1.02
Browneyed Gull, Alli. 8504 0.94
Funny Tern, Alli. 8269 0.92
Jack Sparrow, SF 8165 0.91
Deborah Mussel, Ind. 7426 0.83
Kitty Hawk, Ind. 6228 0.69
Joaquín Great Cat, Ind. 6180 0.69
Michael Fish, Ind. 87 0.01

Martin exceeds the quota and is deemed elected, Alliance emerges as the largest party with respectable vote management between its candidates, but the race is remarkably close with the exception of Michael Fish who only catches 87 votes.

Those of you who have followed STV counts only casually, as I have, might not have worked out what happens next in this situation, as I hadn’t. On one hand, Frieda Martin has a surplus of 140 votes to transfer. On the other, Michael Fish will never catch up and should be eliminated and his votes transferred. What happens first? Well, under Rule 44F, Paragraph (10), you hang onto the surplus and exclude Fish using Rule 44H. Best explained by Rule 44F itself really – note that if a few other candidates had got similar votes they would have gone at this stage too:

(10) Transferable papers shall not be liable to be transferred where any surplus or surpluses which, at a particular stage of the count, have not already been transferred, are—

(a) less than the difference between the total vote then credited to the continuing candidate with the lowest recorded vote and the vote of the candidate with the next lowest recorded vote, or

(b) less than the difference between the total votes of the two or more continuing candidates, credited at that stage of the count with the lowest recorded total numbers of votes and the candidate next above such candidates.

Fish hadn’t really explained transfers to his voters, so the second count is very fast indeed:

Count 1 2
vote quotas transfers vote quotas
Frieda Martin, DUP 9141 1.02
Browneyed Gull, Alli. 8504 0.94 8504 0.94
Funny Tern, Alli. 8269 0.92 8269 0.91
Jack Sparrow, SF 8165 0.91 1 8166 0.90
Deborah Mussel, Ind. 7426 0.83 7426 0.82
Kitty Hawk, Ind. 6228 0.69 2 6230 0.69
Joaquín Great Cat, Ind. 6180 0.69 6180 0.68
Michael Fish, Ind. 87 0.01 -87

Now we are in a situation where 44F (10) doesn’t apply and the rest of 44F takes effect. Physically, per Paragraph (1), EONI staff divide all 9141 of Martin’s valid ballots into sub-parcels, one for each of the continuing candidates transferred to, and one for any that didn’t transfer at all or transferred to Fish. But per Paragraph (4), this time the second preferences don’t count as a full vote, only a fraction which is the surplus divided by the elected member’s vote, 140/9141 or about 0.015 each. The total value of transferred votes is then rounded down to two decimal places. So 240 next preferences for Deborah Mussel only count at a transfer value of 3.67 exactly, and so forth.

Count 1 2 3
vote quotas transfers vote quotas transfers vote quotas
Frieda Martin, DUP 9141 1.02 -140
Browneyed Gull, Alli. 8504 0.94 8504 0.94 5.97 8509.97 0.94
Funny Tern, Alli. 8269 0.92 8269 0.91 16.20 8285.20 0.92
Jack Sparrow, SF 8165 0.91 1 8166 0.90 8166 0.90
Deborah Mussel, Ind. 7426 0.83 7426 0.82 3.67 7429.67 0.82
Joaquín Great Cat, Ind. 6180 0.69 6180 0.68 89.30 6269.30 0.69
Kitty Hawk, Ind. 6228 0.69 2 6230 0.69 15.19 6245.19 0.69
Michael Fish, Ind. 87 0.01 -87

The results come in at sunset. On this third count, no one else has yet met the quota, but it has been consequential. The DUP vote mostly transferred to the enigmatic Joaquín Great Cat, dropping Kitty Hawk into last place. As per Rule 44H, she’s excluded, but unlike Michael Fish, it’s a massive vote to transfer and moreover she has two piles of ballots: her original 6228 votes and the 992 ballots transferred from Frieda Martin at 140/9141 value. Within Count 4, the next available preferences from her original 6228 ballots are counted and distributed at full value – and then those from Martin at the fractional value. It takes ages.

Count 1 2 3 4
vote quotas transfers vote quotas transfers vote quotas transfers vote quotas
Frieda Martin, DUP 9141 1.02 -140
Browneyed Gull, Alli. 8504 0.94 8504 0.94 5.97 8509.97 0.94 651.82 9161.79 1.01
Funny Tern, Alli. 8269 0.92 8269 0.91 16.20 8285.20 0.92 702.22 8987.42 0.99
Jack Sparrow, SF 8165 0.91 1 8166 0.90 8166 0.90 8166 0.90
Joaquín Great Cat, Ind. 6180 0.69 6180 0.68 89.30 6269.30 0.69 1551.77 7821.07 0.86
Deborah Mussel, Ind. 7426 0.83 7426 0.82 3.67 7429.67 0.82 0.01 7429.68 0.82
Kitty Hawk, Ind. 6228 0.69 2 6230 0.69 15.19 6245.19 0.69 -6245.19
Michael Fish, Ind. 87 0.01 -87

Late into the night, the result of count 4 is announced, and it’s a big one.

Browneyed Gull finally reaches quota with a value of 9,161.79. Meanwhile, none of Hawk’s first-preference voters gave Deborah Mussel a transfer and only one of Frieda Martin’s ballots had her next, while again the elusive Joaquín Great Cat has gotten the lion’s share, bumping him up the ranking. In fact, Mussel has dropped so far behind that even if all of Gull’s surplus value transferred to her, she wouldn’t make up the ground. So to the relief of the bleary-eyed staff, the count is completed. Deborah Mussel loses her seat, while newcomers Funny Tern, Jack Sparrow, and the intriguing Joaquín Great Cat are deemed elected.

Jubilation erupts from the Alliance and Sinn Féin camps. The MLAs flutter to the stage to sing the praises of their teams and the election staff – except for that perplexing figure Joaquín Great Cat. We still know very little about him, but let’s just say the few selfies he’s put on TikTok have been a little… fishy.

My money don't jiggle jiggle, it folds...

***

Hope you enjoyed my tall tale folks – as well as a deep dive into STV it was a test run of the Twitter coverage I’ll be providing on Friday and Saturday for Slugger O’Toole. All being well, I’ll post a map update each time someone’s deemed elected, with a full roundup when all seats are filled. If you spot a way to improve the graphics, I’m open to persuasion – drop a comment below. Many thanks to the editors for letting me on board.

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