How the ‘50% plus one’ vote is calculated

If as a voter you want to make a difference, you must read this…

An interview with the Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Mahinda Deshapriya on Digital Vahini – a YouTube channel hosted by Nuwan Gammanpila

NOTE We have translated the interview – conducted in Sinhala – to the best of our ability 

Q: If none of the candidates obtain 50 percent [plus one vote] of the votes cast, what are the alternatives?

A: Let’s say there are five candidates – e.g. A, B, C, D and E. From the total number of votes, let’s say hypothetically (for ease of calculation) there are 100 valid votes as follows:

A       =   40 votes
B       =   35 votes
C       =   15 votes
D       =     6 votes
E       =     4 votes
Total = 100 votes

What will happen in this race since no one has obtained 50 percent plus one vote (i.e. more than half) to be the clear winner?

In such a scenario, we take only the two with the highest number of votes [i.e. A and B]. So in this example, we take the ballots relating to A (40) and B (35), seal them separately and keep them aside.

Sri Lankan voters know they can mark preferences – i.e. 1, 2, 3 and so on. Or if their choice is restricted to one candidate, they can cast their vote by marking 1 or X for the candidate of their choice. In our experience, voters only mark X; they don’t indicate any preferences such as 1, 2 and 3.

The only time I witnessed a brief campaign to create awareness about marking preferences when you cast your vote was during the 1982 and 1988 elections. The public was informed that they should mark 1 for their preferred candidate and 2 for another. And there are those who mark preferences.

When counting preference votes, we don’t take into account the preferences marked on the ballot papers that have been set aside for A and B.

The process then continues as follows…

  • Take the ballot papers for the 15 votes that C has obtained.
  • Check and take out the ballot papers marked with only X and put them aside.
  • Check and take out those marked with 1 only for C and put them aside.
  • Check whether there are any marked with 1 for C, and other preferences such as 2, 3 and so on.
  • If the second preference is for either A or B, these are added to their respective votes.
  • If the second preference is for D, E (or anyone else), we check if their third preference is for A or B and add to their respective votes.
  • If the third preference is neither for A nor B, these are put aside.

This procedure is followed with ballot papers corresponding to D (6) and E (4).

At the end of this process, let’s assume that A and B obtained four and six more votes respectively. The new count will be as follows…

A          = 44 votes (i.e. 40 + 4)
B          = 41 votes (i.e. 35 + 6)
Total    = 85 votes

The candidate who has more than 50 percent of the 85 votes will be declared the winner. In this instance, it will be A.

Similarly, if B obtains 10 more votes and A only three, again the candidate with more than 50 percent wins.

In the event that neither A nor B receives any additional votes from the preferences, we revert to the initial count of A (40) and B (35), and declare the winner – in this instance, it will be A.