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Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 18:28 GMT
The d'Hondt system explained
Dr Sydney Elliott, senior lecturer in politics at Queen's University, Belfast, explains how the d'Hondt system works: The d'Hondt, or highest average method, is named after a Belgian lawyer from the 1870s. Unlike single transferable vote, it does not use a quota or formula to allocate seats or posts. Instead, these are allocated singularly and one after another. The basic idea is that a party's vote total is divided by a certain figure which increases as it wins more seats. As the divisor becomes bigger, the party's total in succeeding rounds gets smaller, allowing parties with lower initial totals to win seats. The divisor in the first round is one (ie it has no effect) and thereafter it is the total number of seats gained plus one. The following is an example of how the system would work when being used to allocate committee chairmen in the Assembly. Suppose the number of seats won in the Assembly were as in the top line of the following table. Follow each round horizontally across the table to see which party has the biggest total and therefore wins that round. Follow each party's total vertically to see it decrease as it wins more seats. These figures are for illustrative purposes only.
The UUP has the highest total, 39, so wins the first round. The UUP figure is now divided by 2 (its total seats + 1) to give a new figure of 19.5. The highest total for round two, on the second line, is 23 for the SDLP  which wins the seat and sees its figure reduced to 11.5. Round three goes to the UUP again as its adjusted figure of 19.5 is again the highest. The new UUP figure is 13  its original total of 39 divided by 3 (2 seats + one). Rounds four and five go to Sinn Fein and the DUP with totals of 17 and 16 respectively. Their adjusted figures are 8.5 and 8. The highest total for the sixth round is 13, giving the UUP its third representative. The party's new figure is 9.75, based on its original total of 39 divided by 4 (3 seats + 1). The final round in this example goes to the SDLP with a total of 11.5. If the table continued, the new SDLP figure would be 7.67. This process would continue until all the posts or seats are filled. 
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