Tallymen and women may have to put away their paper and pens for the last time if plans to roll out electronic voting go according to plan.

You might claim to be interested in elections, but tallymen are a breed apart.  They gather in count centres and watch ballot boxes being opened, and ballot papers being counted.  With pencils and notepads in their hands, they have the combined mental arithmetic to match 64 million megabytes of computer memory.  

More often than not they know which politicians have been elected before the media find out.  Micheal Ó hUiginn laments the passing of the tallyman’s presence, 

It’s going to be a big loss...you had experts in there that could sort of tell how preferences were going, you had accountants in there who could tot as they were writing, and they were nearly throwing it out as accurately as any computer ever would.

Defined in the dictionary as a person who keeps a score or a record of something, tallymen and women are in the unique position of possessing intimate knowledge of specific constituencies, gained by years watching and totting up election counts, as Padraic Coneelly testifies, 

If you had a minister in a constituency, and he spent a lot of money, now we could zero in into that box...he could have spent millions of pounds there, and we could see that he’d only got a handful of votes or something like that...

PJ O’Loughlin, aged 83, is one of Galway’s legendary tallymen.  He began electioneering at the age of 10, and remembers turbulent times, 

In earlier days now, in the Twenties and early Thirties, ‘twas different...politics were rougher then, d’you know, people were more against one another.  But from the Thirties on, there wasn’t any of that.

An RTÉ News report first broadcast on 17 May 2002.  The reporter is Jim Fahy.