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Educate Together Blog

Educate Together Blog

Behind the Scenes at Local Election Count in RDS

Fionnuala Ward, Primary Education Officer

I found it hard to drag myself off the sofa and wander down to the polling station. I was definitely going to vote but had let a couple of hours slip by dozing and flicking channels and now it all seemed such a chore.

As I handed over the card it had taken me a good 5 minutes to locate, I was vaguely aware of a man in his 40s, most probably from an Indian or South East Asian background, asking if it was possible to take a photograph. Minutes later as I zipped up my jacket against the grey Dublin drizzle, he was standing outside. A woman was adjusting a camera as he pointed upwards at the polling station sign, beaming from ear to ear.

The scene stopped me in my tracks. I offered to take a photograph of them both but he laughingly declined. ‘No, no’ he asserted ‘ she can’t vote yet. But I can vote. I can vote....’

Four weeks of full-on canvassing had left me weary and battle-scarred and not a little cynical. But for that fraction of a second, I found myself gasping for air.

Mind you, this was very quickly followed by an urge to drag all those prospective voters, who’d declared that we were all the same and that the whole process was basically well, not good, all the way down that side-street to encounter this for themselves.

I hadn’t planned on being a Director of Elections and certainly not in a local electoral area that I didn’t live in and wasn’t particularly familiar with but for some reason I couldn’t quite decline the offer when it came my way.

Although that’s not quite true. Actually there was a reason.

The count.

Forget about One Direction, which happened that same weekend. The count in the RDS is the best, most exciting, most gossip-filled, clip-board clutching, adrenaline-fuelled, caffeine-slurping, media-gawking, rumour-mongering gig in town.

Dear god, I love it!

To the point of stopping mid-canvas at one point, when the noise of the planes and that little picture on the signposts brought a stark possibility front and centre. We could well be outside some randomly designated radius of relevant wards. It could all be happening in a windswept hanger or a forlorn warehouse right bang in the middle of nowhere.

My candidate fairly tripped over herself to reassure that official documentation to the contrary had most definitely been received.

We would be heading to Ballsbridge.

Well, I would intially. Candidates tend to have a set of rituals come Count Day, to pretty much keep them sane and distracted. My own had never been there before but had mapped out a pleasant morning and afternoon of sleep, a massage and coffee with a friend. It all sounded good to me.

I, on the other hand, was propped at a railing, clipboard in hand, shortly before 9.00 am. The tally was about to begin. I had only tallied once before, when the Director of Elections of a previous campaign had shoved a clipboard into my hands and entirely ignored my protestations of downright terror. Two of us did our half of the box in the end, watching as the votes were straightened and sorted. One calling out names. One marking out the boundaries of a little square, cut in half by that final diagonal number 1.

Tallying up those number ones should have been easy. Certainly those boxes of five pretty much calculated themselves. But a runner arrived for our final sheet before we’d made it to the overall totals and both my buddy and I crumbled under the pressure of adding 36 and 28, while being scrutinised with palpable impatience.

Happily, the first runner I encountered this time around had little or no interest in that final figure. The computer, he asserted, would get the job done.

I rang the candidate around 2.00. The tally seemed to indicate that we were still in with a chance. Maybe. Perhaps. But who really knew?

 

There followed a plethora of texts. But then everything was followed by a plethora of texts. Texts were followed by a plethora of texts. Paper cup in one hand, phone in the other, shuffle, pause, abrupt step to one side. It was as if we were all players in some giant game of chess.

 

A game punctuated by the occasional appearance of a small, tight crowd at various counting areas, which signified the adjudication of the spoilt ballots. Candidates of the ward were entitled to a representative at the relevant gathering. Our Returning Officer was accompanied by a stamp-wielding colleague who pounded ‘Rejections’ on the entirely blank and heart-breakingly unfranked before moving onto a sea of numerous number ones and a series of ticks and crosses.

The ‘You are all a bunch of .....s’ came next. It was hard not to assume that the vitriol implicit those slogans had hoped to elicit a response. Would they have been disappointed to witness our small, weary group, 8 hours in, more or less non-commital? Brought to mutterings of admiration by a very competent pencil drawing, still sadly rejected, or a stream of expletives spelt out neatly into box after box of the 18 candidates on the sheet?

Or maybe the very expression of that fury and indignation was sufficient in itself. And who cared what our dissolute, little band thought anyway ?

Transfers came and transfers went and heads huddled low over columns of figures.

We were told to come back for a second day.

It was late the following morning. Two count workers argued that children should be allowed in to see all this democracy in action. I was all in favour. But then I had an ulterior motive. A bunch of 5th class pupils could suss out and explain that whole percentage of surplus business once and for all - without the mumbling, coughing and subtle change of topic that generally marked the conversation in polite circles.

At the very least they’d have loved the drama of pathways being temporarily blocked and Gardai sweeping into action when votes for the European election were being moved from one end of the hall to the other.

My candidate got a seat in the end. And we all got a chance to hoop and holler. And that was all good.

Earlier in the day, I’d compared notes with a fellow count groupie. He’d been there, he’d calculated, for more bad times than good. As had I, upon reflection. Chances are, as had most people.

It’s a pretty fickle game.

Still it’s the only game we’ve got. And no doubt, as my beaming friend from the polling station would argue, one actually worth getting off the sofa for.

Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816