Over the last few days, I've received a number of emails asking for clarification on various aspects of the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect councillors on 4th May. Apologies that I haven't been able to respond to everyone individually, but it probably makes more sense to answer a few of the questions in a public post anyway.
* First of all, someone contacted the Edinburgh Election office to ask whether he should or shouldn't rank certain candidates if he doesn't want any portion of his vote to be transferred to them. I'm not quite sure what the question was getting at, because having your vote transferred is basically a good thing rather than a bad thing. Even if you genuinely think three or four candidates are all equally awful, ensuring that your vote doesn't transfer to any of them is a neutral thing rather than a good thing, because by that point they will be the only candidates left in contention for one (or more) seats, meaning that one (or more) of them will still be elected. The only effect of your non-transferred vote will be to deprive you of any influence over which one is successful.
However, I'm delighted to report that the Edinburgh Election office gave a scrupulously accurate answer (which is rather refreshing giving the amount of misinformation being pumped out by people and organisations that should know better). They correctly indicated that no part of your vote can be transferred if you haven't given a ranking to any of the candidates remaining in contention for the seats yet to be filled. Why you would want to prevent your vote being transferred is a bit of a mystery, but for what it's worth that's the definitive answer to the question posed.
* A number of people seem to be deeply troubled by the idea that even if they rank a Tory candidate last (by which I mean absolute last without leaving any preferences blank), part of their vote could technically transfer to the Tory at the end of the counting process. That's true, but the operative word is "technically" - it really is a complete irrelevance. If your vote ever reaches the point of being nominally transferred to your bottom-ranked candidate, that means by definition that the candidate in question has effectively already been elected, because all of the other candidates in contention for the last seat in the ward have been eliminated. The final transfer of votes is just a meaningless formality, and it doesn't in any way affect the popular vote totals reported in the media, which will be based on first preference votes only. If it bothers you, rank all but one of the candidates rather than all of them - that will allow you to maintain your purity without making any difference to the final seat allocation. But seriously, don't worry about it - if you use all of your preferences and rank a candidate absolute last, you are emphatically voting against them, and maximising the chances that they will not be elected.
* Someone asked me if it might be a good idea to trawl through actual results from the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election, conducted under STV, to give concrete examples where the DUP only won a seat because nationalist voters didn't use enough of their lower preferences. At this point, I'll just have to say that life is too short - but I don't have the slightest doubt that such examples exist. Even in Northern Ireland where this system is so much better understood than it is here, there are many, many voters from both sides of the sectarian divide who do not bother using their lower preferences. If one community was significantly more likely to use lower preferences than the other, they would gain a telling advantage in the final seat numbers.
* This isn't strictly speaking a reader's question, but I really do need to say something about the dangerous misinformation that has been put out on a certain SNP Facebook page. Whoever runs that page is using the veneer of authority to mislead people into thinking that giving a lower preference to an independent or unionist candidate can somehow help that candidate overtake an SNP candidate you have ranked higher. If you've read that claim, IGNORE IT. It is totally without foundation. If there are two SNP candidates in your ward, and you rank them 1 and 2, then none of your preferences from 3 onwards will EVEN BE LOOKED AT until and unless both SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated. Ask yourself this very simple question : how can a lower preference possibly help a unionist overtake an SNP candidate who has already been elected or eliminated? It can't. It's physically impossible.
If you only rank the SNP candidates, then all you are doing is abstaining in contests for seats that the SNP are no longer in the running for. You might, for example, be abstaining in a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens for the final seat in the ward. How does that help?