Polling stations for the public to vote in the Stormont Assembly election 2022 have now closed, so what happens next?
Verification and counting of ballot papers begins at 8am on Friday.
The count will take place at three count centres: Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast, Ulster University in Jordanstown and Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt.
Results will roll in throughout the day as the count progresses. It will be many hours – and perhaps even Saturday or beyond – before we know the final outcome.
For the last Assembly election in 2017, the count began on a Friday and the final result to be completed was the South Belfast constituency at around 3am on Saturday.
Electoral office officials will decide late on Friday whether to continue counting into the small hours to finish up, or whether to take a break and restart on Saturday morning.
It means there will be an anxious wait for the 239 candidates contesting the election across Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies.
Five MLAs will be elected in each constituency – a total of 90 seats in the Assembly up for grabs.
How the votes are counted
Assembly elections use a system called Single Transferrable Vote (STV), allowing voters to rank candidates in other of their preference. It is a system to ensure we have a range of voices heard at Stormont.
So how do we determine who is elected?
In each constituency, a ‘quota’ is calculated using a mathematical formula based on the number of seats and votes cast.
The first-preference votes (number 1s on ballot papers) are all counted, and any candidate who meets the quota is elected.
If a candidate has more votes than the quota, known as a ‘surplus’, their vote is redistributed to the other candidates. So the candidate marked ‘2’ on those ballots gets those votes added to their tally.
As the vote continues through different stages, the candidates with the fewest votes are knocked out of the race and their second-preferences are transferred to the other candidates.
Round by round this process continues until we have the five candidates above or closest to the quota deemed elected.
Belfast Live will have all the latest results, reaction and analysis as the votes are counted.
Which are the key seats to watch?
Of the 18 constituencies, several are considered key battlegrounds. Take a look at our rundown of where gains could be made or lost.
The election is a big moment for the Stormont parties, which have spent thousands of pounds on social media advertisements during the Assembly election campaign.
If opinion polls are to be believed, the result will be a fight between the DUP and Sinn Féin to lose the fewest seats and thus emerge as the largest party.
There is also a question of whether the ‘Alliance surge’ during elections in 2019 will continue, which could prompt changes to Stormont’s system of power-sharing.
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