As we approach the election on Thursday, it is clear that many people with strong political opinion and a will to engage in the process have not fully understood how our single transferable vote system can be used to maximise political progress.
As News Letter reported on Saturday, there was a move away from the main parties in the last election, with first preference for smaller parties increasing.
Additionally, one third of all preferences in the last election were for parties outside the big four that has dominated Stormont – DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and SDLP.
Clearly, many voters want to see change and do vote for parties such as Conservatives, Alliance, Greens, People Before Profit, Labour Alternative, CISTA, Workers Party, UKIP as well as independents.
At the same time, many voters have – both on social media and on the doorsteps – expressed concerns that smaller parties ‘split the vote’ or that voting for them is a ‘wasted vote’.
The good news is that with STV there is no splitting of votes and no wasted vote.
The system allows the voter to choose a number of candidates, meaning that if their first preference does not gain enough votes to be elected to Stormont, the second or third preference will.
The vote does not lose significance as it is transferred down to a third preference.
This also means that it is a golden opportunity to vote for smaller party candidates who often represent normalised politics centred schools, healthcare, jobs and infrastructure rather than about community divisions relating to history.
By given such a candidate first preference, it bolsters the chances to see the change so many is hoping for.
Should the candidate not received the quota required, the vote will not be ‘lost’.
Rather it will transfer to a second preference candidate, who will have been sent a message of how important bread and butter issues are to voters.
The alternative, voting for a major party candidate as first preference, and then add a few smaller party or independent candidates one is sympathetic too further down, is unlikely to translate into change.
Annika Nestius-Brown, Belfast BT4