But how does Vote till you Boak work?

I’ve been asked, so..

Imagine there was a ward with 12,000 electors and 10 candidates standing that will elect 4 council seats.

There’s obviously things like turnout  to consider, so say 60% go out and vote.

That’s 7,200 votes and say that all of them use their 1-10 voting options by voting until they boak.

Now, there’s a bar or a Quota to exceed to get elected. This explainer is from Moray Council’s website and I commend reading it.

STV vote explained

But to the Quota, Bar or Winning Lines:-

Got it? and in my example it’s 1,441 as the Quota.


Yup, it’s a formula to get the Quota and that’s the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one, then with one added.

So there’s 7,200 votes divided by 4 seats plus 1 and then add 1

7,200 divided by 5 then add 1 

1,440 add 1


The higher the number of voters, the higher the Quota will beand there could be fun and games in wards with high turnouts and only 3 seats.

Equally, a low turnout and Quota in a four seat ward could be interesting too.

So to the darkness of what could happen…

It could look like this..

Scenario One.

And it could be a straight enough fight between the two SNP candidates and two Labour. 
The SNP get through in the first round of calculations with both candidates exceeding the Quota and Labour then get their candidates through on the second round by having enough next preference votes. 

That situation reflects both parties fielding two candidates in a ward and recommending their 1 and 2 in different areas of the ward.

Clear enough?

The actual method employed in the count would remove the candidate with least votes and reallocate their next preferences until someone meets the Quota.

I’m oversimplifying things by showing all the rounds of voting and all the votes that each candidate gets through each round, but the process would work out pretty much the same.

The counting process would go through the preferences of the lowest independent, then the next lowest, then the SSP, then the Liberal Democrat and so on and so on. 

The process is electronic and tabulates if you went SNP1, then Green or SNP2 then SSP and all the various permutations of the first and second preferences that are made.

With me this far?

Good, then let’s make it a bit more muddled as obviously SNP message, government and MPs MSPs are visible and people want change in the councils etc.

Scenario Two.

This time, there’s slightly more SNP votes and their candidates get through with a bigger lead. 

Once the two SNP candidates get elected, the votes for them in the subsequent rounds don’t matter. 

Two Councillors are elected at this point.

This is why in some areas SNP and Labour are saying on their electoral materials if you live in Areas A, B and C vote for Indy as 1 and Pendence as 2, and if you live in areas D, E and F vote for Pendence as 1 and Indy as 2. 

The idea being that if there’s 3000 votes for the SNP, they aren’t piled onto one candidates and both candidates votes are balanced out in terms of first and second preferences.

Going back to our example and The Greens sneak a second round place by just beating the Quota over the first two rounds of preferences.

Again, their votes won’t carry beyond that round. We have three elected councillors at this point.

The Quota calculations keep looking at preferences and in this case, the first and second preferences are enough to get The Greens elected by the Second round after starting at the bottom and working out which votes transfer as each lowest placed candidate is knocked out or wont meet the Quota number.

In the third round, more candidates beat the bar of 1,441, but it’s the Liberal Democrats whose vote over the three rounds was greatest. 

Now, their vote wasn’t higher than anyone else in the first two rounds but they secured enough votes over the three rounds to be elected.

That means all four seats are filled. 

Other candidates also met the Quota in this round but didn’t get as great a number of votes as the Liberal Democrat.

It’s not simple, but it’s fairer as the votes in all three rounds are taken into account.

The preferences are added up until a winner is found from the list and it may be that getting a greater number of votes in later rounds is a fairer reflection once the candidates elected by the first three rounds are totalled.

Scenario Three.

This example is similar to Scenario Two, but the Greens need the third preference votes and it’s a run off between a number of candidates at that point as to who is elected and where the transfers of votes do matter.

I’ve been unrealistic in assuming that the 7,200 votes carry across on each round as some voters will simply express a 1 or express a 1 and 2 as they’ve been instructed on the leaflets they’ve received. 

Not all voters will want to rank the list and there will be a drop off in numbers voting in each round. 

Perhaps, this is a danger for some candidates if the first and second preferences have near level numbers and where others pick up greater transfers of third preferences.

Scenario Four.

In this scenario, I’ve deliberately dropped the number of votes in each voting round. I’ve also made SNP1 and SNP 2  have an easier time too.

But, As I said, there will be a movement in numbers of electors in each voting round.

There’s an importance and logic in voting through the candidates until the end. 

With Ten rounds of voting preferences, there’s likely to be less votes to distribute through each round of preference as voters progressively drop out of the process.

Although the Green and LD candidates still get elected by the third round, the importance of vote transfers remains valid and there can be situations where electors voting just 1 or just 1 and 2 on their ballots drop out and won’t influence the third or fourth elected councillors in their wards.

That can leave a noticeable gap in numbers to those voting in round three and that can ease the way for candidates likely to be a third preference, no matter the combination of the first two votes made.

Therefore, matching your votes to the number of councillors elected in the ward is important.

Voting for 4 candidates if there is four seats or 3 candidates if there is three seats is the theory.

It also leads to question of parties only standing two candidates in a four seat ward. 

A third candidate might be a risk and spread votes, but if on a long list of ten or perhaps more standing, it might be a valid way to ensure that the voters are motivated to vote beyond your 1 and 2.

The opportunity for some of the parties is in gaining third and fourth preferences. That is the focus for the Greens, SSP and Liberal Democrats. 

No party can or will say who to vote for after the 1 and 2 votes, but Tories have been noticeable in saying to vote for union supporting candidates and there has at least been some reference made by writers on the pro-independence side for voting down through the full list.


I think there’s merit in voting until you boke. 

The mid part of all these spreadsheets at rounds 3 to 5 would be difficult to guess, my assumptions are that the parties likely to get 1 and 2 preferences, the SNP and Labour will not get same amount of third or fourth preferences if they are standing two candidates in a field of ten. 

There may be some danger if younger voters take a vote for green first preference and then go with either SNP or Labour. That brings a different dynamic.

Equally, there may be tactical voting, if there is an encouraged block ‘Unionist’ vote at play, but I think some traditional Labour voters might see voting Tory as going too far and vice versa.

Also a factor in the mix will be that there is some pick up of the second and third preferences by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

I think there will be a number of examples in wards across Scotland  of multiple parties reaching the Quota by the third and fourth preference stages of counting. 

Although, how straightforward some seats might be for the SNP is open to question and in some wards or areas there could be interesting results if tactical voting or a block ‘Unionist’ or block ‘Nationalist’ voting is at play.

The system and need for at least one vote on the ballot paper may see a drop off by some voters who just wish to treat as first past the post. 

Obviously, with the bar or Quota calculation in play, a high turnout might help in certain situations as it increases the Quota squeezing the pips through the rounds of voting preferences.

I cannot see widespread tactical voting affecting every seat, although I think there’s likely to be reasonable numbers thinking about voting through the list.

This may give interesting statistics in some wards as some voters will be taking seriously the chance to rank certain parties last. This makes a statement.

We know this is council election, but election materials from some parties are making it about having a view on a second independence referendum. 

Clearly the thinking is not just on electing councillors, but in terms of sticking it to the other guy and I think there could be cawing over ‘look how many electors rejected them’. 

Interesting times and an interesting use of the voting system to make positive AND negative statements.


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