For some, it might appear that the only question left to decide today is whether Enda Kenny leads an overall Fine Gael majority government, a minority government supported by a handful of “like minded independents”, or a coalition with Labour.
But the Irish voting system, and the intricacies of the single transferable vote, mean that a few votes can have a profound outcome on a general election.
Sometimes, the difference it hard to see. The 15th amendment to the constitution, for example, was carried by under 10,000 votes. That works out at less than one ballot paper in every ballot box. But in a referendum, the national number can mask how close a vote is.
Then there’s Kathy Synott. The former MEP ran for Dáil Éireann in 2002, and at the end of counting, was ahead by three votes. Fianna Fáil demanded a recount, and each vote was carefully scrutinised by the tallymen the second time round. In the end, Kathy lost out by nine votes, and John Dennehy (FF) was elected.
And don’t forget Eric Byrne. Now a Labour candidate in Dublin South Central, in 1992 he was the sitting Democratic Left TD. The “Spring Tide” that year pushed Pat Upton to the top of the poll, and Byrne found himself locked in a battle for the final spot. Eventually, after several recounts and rechecks, he lost out to Fianna Fáil’s Ben Briscoe.
Labour Leader Dick Spring was luckier. The former Labour leader managed to hold on to his seat in 1987 by just four votes. This account of the votes, transfers and surpluses during that count gives a good insight into the intricacies of the single transferable vote.
The 1987 election, by the way, led to the notorious “Tallaght strategy”, where Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes promised to support the minority government of Charlie Haughey, provided Fianna Fáil put through harsh budget measures to reverse government spending deficits. At the time one Fianna Fáil analyst noted that had fewer than 1,000 votes in the right constituencies gone the other way, it would have given the minority 80-seat government an overall majority.
But perhaps the luckiest candidate ever was Fine Gael’s Dan Neville. In 2002, Dan held on to his seat in Limerick West by just a single vote, ahead of party colleague Michael Finucane, who must therefore qualify as the unluckiest almost-TD.
Polling stations remain open until 10pm tonight.