Edinburgh council elections 2022: How 'alphabet effect' defeated councillor for second time

Finance convener Rob Munn’s defeat in Leith Walk is the second time he has lost his seat because of a controversial feature of the Single Transferable Vote electoral system.

By Ian Swanson
Friday, 6th May 2022, 9:22 pm

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Each ward elects three or four councillors and, depending on the strength of their support, parties might field more than one candidate. Voters rank candidates in order of preference, marking their ballot papers 1, 2, 3, etc. But experience has shown that where a party fields two candidates in one ward, the one whose name comes first in the alphabet – and therefore appears first on the ballot paper – often gets more first preferences than their running mate, even if they are less well-known.

In 2012, Adam McVey – now council leader – stood in Leith ward along with Rob Munn, then a sitting councillor and a former Deputy Lord Provost. Cllr McVey was elected, while Rob Munn, whose name was after his on the ballot paper, lost his seat despite his higher profile.

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Now it seems to have happened again. Cllr Munn – who was elected in a 2019 by-election in Leith Walk ward, was standing along with fellow SNP candidate Amy McNeese-Mechan. But she too appeared before him on the ballot paper. She got 2,248 preferences to his 1,132 and was elected while he lost.

After the problem, known as “the alphabet effect”, was first identified, there were calls for candidates' names to be printed in random order or listed by party. But many local authorities backed alphabetical order on the grounds that was what voters expected and the Scottish Government decided against a change.

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Rob Munn