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Watch: How to vote in the Highland Council election today as people are asked to rank candidates and why each box filled on the ballot paper counts because X no longer marks the spot

By Scott Maclennan

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Voters across the Highlands will go to the polls to cast their ballot for local government elections in what is called the Single Transferable Vote system.

That is something which has led to confusion for voters in the past, so how does the Single Transferable Vote (or STV for short) system work?

Those 16 and over from today can cast a vote at their local polling station between 7am and 10pm if they have registered to vote in this election.

To make the most of their ballot, voters should – but do not have to – rank their favoured candidates filling in all the boxes.

Starting with their most favoured candidate people should mark them as one, then two, three and so on moving in ascending order to their least favoured.

That is because a complicated system of calculation is used to make the most of each individual’s preference (detailed below).

For a councillor to be elected they have to reach or surpass the quota, based on the number of votes cast minus those that have been rejected.

After that the votes cast for the first winner are transferred to the next valid candidate according to each individual’s choice on the ballot paper.

So if the quota is 500 and Candidate A wins in the first round with 550 votes then those 50 votes transfer to each voter’s next most popular candidate.

If a voter marks only a preference for Candidate A and no one else then they only get to choose once councillor, if you mark each of the boxes according to preference you will have a say in electing them all.

At this point, if no other candidate has reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be excluded and their votes either transferred to continuing candidates or added to the non-transferable total.

This process continues until all the seats are filled.

Electoral Maths

For those interested in some of the mathematics behind this, here are a few explanations from the Highland Council’s election guide:

Each Ward’s quota is calculated by dividing the number of valid ballot papers (total votes cast minus any rejected papers) by 1 more than the number of vacancies, plus 1.

An example is detailed below:

• Number of seats to be filled = 3

• Total number of ballot papers = 2,931

• Number of rejected ballot papers = 43,


• The number of valid ballot papers = 2,888

and the quota is:

• Quota = (2,888/(3+1))+1 = 723

If a candidate reaches or exceeds the electoral quota they are elected. The value of the surplus votes for elected candidates is then transferred to the next valid candidate in order of preference on each individual ballot paper.

In the example, say Candidate A received a total of 998 first preference votes. The quota was just 723 votes so there would be an excess of 275 surplus votes. These need to be passed on to the candidate that the voter chose next in order of preference. All 998 votes are redistributed but are given a transfer value to make that 998 worth just 275. The transfer value is 275 divided by 998 = 0.27555.

5. All the votes for Candidate A are examined for a second preference and are transferred to that candidate at a value of 0.27555 for each paper. That way only the value of the surplus is transferred. If the voter marked only a preference for Candidate A then the ballot paper is non-transferable.

In all subsequent stages of the count the total number of votes will always be 2,888 (shown to 5 decimal places) which will be either allocated to candidates who are elected, the continuing candidates or treated as non-transferable.

6. If no other candidate has attained the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be excluded and their votes either transferred to continuing candidates or added to the non-transferable total. These votes are transferred out at their current value i.e. they could be first preference votes counting as 1.00000 or transferred at a lower value from another candidate or candidates’ surplus.

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