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Choosing your MEPs

Photo: Jason Borg

Photo: Jason Borg

Whether you are a first-time voter or an experienced one, it is easy to be confused by Malta’s single transferable vote system. To simplifythe process, Kurt Sansone breaks it down into digestible portions.

1. How do I vote?

Voting is simple but the electoral process behind it is complicated. A ballot paper contains all the names of candidates in alphabetical order grouped by the political party they belong to.

Next to each candidate there is a box in which you have to write down a number, indicating your preference. You start with the number one (1) next to the candidate of first choice.

You can then proceed to allocate further preferences in ascending order (2, 3, 4, etc...)

2. Do I have to put a number next to each candidate?

No. You do not have to mark all the candidates, although this is a possibility. But the system allows you to transfer your vote (through subsequent preferences after the number one) between candidates of the same party or of a different party.

You can also choose to stop with the number one vote.

3. Will I spoil my vote if my numbers alternate between candidates of different parties?

No. Exponents of the two major political parties insist on voting only for candidates of the same party. They do this for political reasons but you have a right to shift between candidates of different parties and this will not spoil your vote. You obviously have a right to heed the political messages and stick to candidates of the same party if you wish.

4. Why is the number one so important?

The number one not only indicates your preferred candidate but also your first choice party.

The strength of political parties is measured by the amount of number one votes they would have obtained – this is also known as the first count vote.

However, the MEP election is unlike the general election where first count votes determine the winner. Although first count votes obtained in the MEP election have political significance for the nation, it is the seats obtained after vote transfers are taken into consideration that count at an EU level.

5. Exactly what is at stake in this election?

Malta has six seats in the European Parliament. Voters will have to choose the six MEPs who will represent them for the next five years.

6. Will the six MEPs sit together in the European Parliament?

No. MEPs are not grouped according to their nationality but political affiliation. The Maltese MEPs will take their seat with the European political grouping to which their party belongs.

7. How are the candidates elected?

For the MEP election all of Malta and Gozo are considered as one big district. This gives you the chance to vote for all the candidates, unlike the general election where you get the chance to choose only from candidates contesting your district.

To get elected, candidates have to reach a national quota of votes worked out by the Electoral Commission. The quota is based on an equation set out at law: the number of valid votes cast is divided by seven and the result is increased by one.

The quota for the forthcoming MEP election is expected to be around 35,000 votes but this depends on how many people actually go out and vote.

8. How can candidates reach the quota?

Votes are first distributed among candidates depending on the number one preference.

After all the votes are distributed, each candidate will know the total he obtained at the first count. If a candidate surpasses the quota, he is declared elect.

In the next round, the votes of the elected candidate are reopened. Based on the number two preference, these votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. Only a proportion of inherited votes are added on to the individual’s vote tally.

9. Why do candidates inherit only a proportion?

The elected candidate has to retain the quota of votes under his name. This means that inherited votes will have to be worked out as a proportion of the elected candidate’s surplus votes (the extra amount above the quota).

10. What happens if no candidate is elected on the first count?

The candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. All his votes are redistributed among other candidates as indicated by the number two. In this case, all the votes – as opposed to a proportion – inherited by a candidate are added to his tally.

11. How does the process proceed?

At every round, votes of candidates that would have been elected in the previous count, or votes of those eliminated from the race, are redistributed. This is how your number one vote is then transferred to other candidates of your choice. Candidates keep totting up the votes they inherit with the aim of reaching the quota.

12. Who wins the election?

This is a tricky question because although the party that obtains most votes would have scored a political victory, the end result that counts at a European level is the seats obtained.

Unlike a general election there is no corrective mechanism in place to ensure that the number of seats won is proportional to votes obtained.

13. What happens if candidates from three or more political parties are elected?

This means that Malta will have MEPs in three or more political groupings in the European Parliament (see also Q6).

14. How is it that we know the party that obtained most votes before all ballots are counted?

When counting gets under way, political parties will have people recording the number one votes on pieces of paper. As the distribution of number one votes progresses, the party officials will gradually build a very good sample of how people voted across the whole country.

In this way they will be able to project trends and determine the amount of votes obtained by the parties.

If the result is clear cut, party officials will be able to determine the margin of vote difference just 30 minutes after the vote sorting starts.

15. On the ballot can I mark my preferred party with an X?

This will invalidate your vote. You can only use ascending numbers starting from one to indicate your voting preference.

Any other mark will cancel your vote. Even writing or scribbling on the ballot paper will cancel your vote. Make sure to write the numbers clearly within the borders of the box.

16. What happens if I make a mistake while voting?

Do not try to rectify the mistake because you will spoil the vote. Cross off the ballot paper and immediately inform the electoral commissioners, who will be sitting in the room where you vote.

You will have to hand over the spoilt ballot and they will give you another one instead.

Voting in numbers

336,494 eligible Maltese voters
7,880 eligible European voters
32 candidates
7 political parties or alliances
6 European Parliament seats up for grabs

REMEMBER: You can vote between 7am and 10pm.

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