single transferable vote explained

What is The Single Transferable Vote? (STV)

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a form of proportional representation created in Britain. 

Scotland, Northern Ireland, and The Republic of Ireland use it in some or all of their elections.

single transferable vote diagram scotsvote

In Scotland, we use the STV electoral system in local council elections. This results in multiple councillors (representatives) in each area (also known as wards).

scotlands 32 local councils

With the Single Transferable Vote, the strength of the parties matches the strength of their support locally and nationally.

Smaller parties and independents have much more representation in our local councils under STV.

Our councillors therefor have a stronger connection to the people in their local area.

Just like having a group of GPs at your local surgery, under STV you have a group of councillors and you can talk to the one who cares most about your problem.

perth and kinross council 12 wards

How are Councillors elected?

Rather than one person representing everyone in a small area, voters elect a small team of councillors, such as 4 or 5.

These councillors reflect the diversity of opinions in your local area.

single transferable vote diagram showing diversity of representation scotsvote

What happens on election day?

On election day, voters number a list of candidates. Their favourite 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. Parties will often stand more than one candidate in each area.

ballot paper single transferable vote

How is your vote counted?

To help us determine who gets elected and who doesn’t, a quota is established.

Think of a quota as the minimum number of votes a candidate needs to qualify for election.

For example…

The quota for single transferable vote
The quota for single transferable vote
The quota for single transferable vote

Each voter has one vote

By ranking the candidates you wish to be elected, you determine how that one vote may ultimately be counted to try to elect one of your ranked choices in one of the stages of counting the votes.

Your one vote continues to move forward through each stage of counting votes and through your ranked list of candidates (#1, #2, #3 and so on) until at last it is counted for a winning candidate or is counted for the last candidate that you ranked on your ballot who was not elected, whichever occurs first.

So, your one vote has more opportunities to be counted toward a winning candidate the more candidates that you include in your ranked list (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and so on) based on the maximum number your ballot allows.

In Stage One of counting the votes, everyone’s vote goes to their first ranked choice (#1) on their ballot.

Stage one

how a ballot paper is counted with the single transferable vote

If your first ranked choice (#1) receives more votes than they need to reach the quota and to be elected, those surplus votes, which may include your vote, will be reassigned in Stage Two of counting the votes.

Stage two

how a ballot paper is counted with the single transferable vote

In Stage Two of counting the votes, all surplus votes above the quota from candidates who won election in Stage One of counting the votes are reassigned based on those voters’ second ranked choice (#2).

These new, ranked votes, the second ranked choice (#2) of these voters, are added to the total votes received in Stage One for each candidate who was not elected in Stage One. 

All candidates in Stage Two of counting the votes who reach or exceed the quota in Stage Two are elected.

If your second ranked choice (#2) received more votes than they needed to reach the quota and be elected in Stage Two, those surplus votes, which may still include your vote, will be reassigned in Stage Three of counting the votes.

Stage three

how to count a ballot paper on single transferable vote

All candidates in Stage Three of counting the votes who reach or exceed the quota in Stage Three are elected.

If there are still seats available for which no candidates reached the quota in Stage Two, the candidate receiving the least number of votes in Stage Two is eliminated, and their votes are reassigned in Stage Three based on the candidate those voters ranked as their third choice (#3).

Why does STV Matter?

The advantage of using the STV electoral system is that it promotes sharing.

Sharing is one of the core ingredients that create a thriving democracy. A democracy of, for, and by the people.

The STV electoral system literally puts power in the hands of the people.

This way, voters can number their preferred candidates on their ballot regardless of the party they belong to.

This helps us to choose our preferred team of councillors who we’d like to represent us in our local communities.

And unlike the FPTP/AMS electoral systems, our votes will always be heard because they will be shared between our favourite candidates.

Some more advantages are:

  1. Wider representation: As each voter has several councillors to represent them in their ward this gives them more choice in who they can speak to about their problems
  2. Proportionality/equality: System is more proportional than AMS and First Past the Post.
  3. Parties work together: The most likely result of the election is that no one party will control a council. STV is more likely to result in a coalition (or minority control) of a council.
  4. No tactical voting: No votes are ‘wasted’ ie all votes count towards choosing a representative. There is no need for tactical voting and there are no ‘safe’ seats.

A disadvantage to the STV system is that the counting process can initially appear more complex than with FPTP.

Counting can be done by, or with the help of, a computer and it is a small price to pay for improving the voting power of every single elector.

how to count a ballot paper on single transferable vote

Who are your local councillors?

It may help to keep up-to-date with who’s doing what in your community, and why.

Perth & Kinross Council – Find your local councillor

Dundee City Council – Find your local councillor

Edinburgh City Council – Find your local councillor

What are the issues?

Let’s take a look at the issues the main political parties say that they are focusing on.

Helpful Resources

Go and tell them what you really think, and use these helpful links and resources if you need them:

Congratulations! Happy Voting 🙂

The 2022 Scottish local elections will take place on Thursday 5th May.

We need to be registered by 18th April 2022 in order to take part.

Remember, if you don’t vote, they can’t hear you. Tell them what you really think. Vote.

If you’d like some assistance to register to vote this time around, let’s take a couple of minutes together to do just that. Come along!