Elections – we need fairness

By the time you are reading this column, the date of the election should be known.

How was this day decided?

Was it for the convenience of the electors? Was it to try and maximize the number of voters? Was it to ascertain accurately the wishes of the populace?

Was it hell!

The sole deciding factor for the date of the election was a desire to maximize the chances of the ruling parties.

This is nothing short of scandalous. But it is par for the course for the conduct of elections and referendums here.

Remember the divorce referendum? The Government held the vote on a Friday and kept the polling stations opened late so that students could vote. They knew students would support divorce.

But by the time the bail referendum came along the day was moved back to mid-week. You don’t want students voting on civil liberties issues!

This is nothing short of an attempt to fix elections.

I heard Finian McGrath saying on radio that he has to muster 30 signatures in order to allow him to run as an independent in Dublin North-Central.

Apparently, the candidates of the main political parties don’t have to go through this rigmarole.

We see that airtime on radio and TV is allocated in large measure to how the parties performed in the last election. And, of course, the big parties are allowed to use corporate donations which may be related to favours done in the past.

All this militates against the idea of a free and fair election where each candidate starts off with an equal chance.

The McKenna judgment at the time of the divorce referendum managed to force out political interference in the referendum process. Oh how the politicians and party hacks have whinged and bitched over that one.

Well the fact is that the judgment, and the Referendum Commission, have made the referendum process far fairer.

What is required now is an independent Elections Commission to run elections.

Such a commission would set the day and the date of elections; the opening times of polling stations; oversee the Register of Electors (which is becoming increasingly contentious) and the conduct of balloting and counting.

The Minister of the Environment and his political considerations should be taken out of the equation.

How will an Elections Commission come about? There is only one way.

There is no chance that politicians will voluntarily let go of any power they have over the process. It will require someone to go to the High Court and get the current situation declared unconstitutional.

Any takers?

As Well As That. . .

Electronic voting system is flawed

I will be one of the guinea pigs in the election trying out the new electronic voting system. My first impressions (from the literature they sent around) is not favourable.

The electronic voting system is an attempt to solve a problem which doesn’t exist – using ballot papers.

Any problem that arises in our Single Transferable Vote system is not in the voting, it’s in the counting.

The problem with counting, it appears, is that it takes too long. That could have been overcome by the use of scanners. An Post uses such scanners to read addresses so that the technology is proven.

The voting system that is proposed will involve no paper record at all. You push a button and your vote disappears into the computer.

If transparency is supposed to be part of the election system, then this particular process is certainly lacking the visibility of the ballot box.

The second problem I see is that voters will not be offered a choice about how to vote. It’s either the computer or nothing. I can see people who are in two minds about whether to vote being put off by the hassle of having someone explain to them how to use the new system (dare I say, older people?).

Give me pencil and paper any day

At the risk of sounding a complete Luddite – I like the old system.

I see very little gain in the new process. The literature says: “the new system is easier to use than the traditional pencil and ballot paper”. Merciful hour, what could be simpler to use than a pencil and paper?

But the big loss would be the count. The general election count is the biggest get-together in Ireland’s political life. It is an integral part of our political and democratic culture. A great gathering of humanity. Mighty craic.

To see the count being replaced by numbers coming up on a computer is a travesty – just another means of divorcing the human from the workings of everyday life.