Ireland’s electoral system is the fairest electoral system in use in the world. Why, you might ask, do senior politicians want to change it?
They will say that it involves politicians too much in local issues when they should be looking after the affairs of the nation.
What they would really like is to have greater control over who the people elect. Just look at the alternatives to the single transferable vote (STV).
Firstly, Fianna Fail tried to foist the first-past-the-post system on us in two referendums in the 1960s. The Irish people very wisely told them where to shove it.
Now they would like us to accept the dual vote. This system is in use in many countries including assembly elections in the UK. Each elector has two votes. One vote is used in a first-past-the-post election in a local constituency. The other vote is for parties on a national basis.
In this way you get local representatives like our system, while you get proportionality in parliament. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
What isn’t mentioned is that the list from which the party’s draw their candidates is compiled by the parties themselves. Not much influence for the electorate there. In Germany, I believe, half the seats are elected from party lists. Lots of room for golden circles there.
The STV system gives an excellent range of choice to the voter and ensures that practically everyone has a representative that they have voted for.
There is a low level campaign to undermine the STV system. Keep a wary eye out for it.Make voting easier
The election process in this country has hardly changed since the foundation of the state but the numbers turning out to vote at each election get fewer and fewer.
Some people think compulsory voting is the answer.
It would be much better trying to make it easier for people to vote. At the last local election I failed to vote because I went to work before the polls opened and returned home after they closed.
Lots of people are on shift work, minding children, away on holiday, unsure of where the polling centre is or find the whole thing too much of a hassle.
They think ‘sure my one vote won’t make much of a difference’.
The state should try to meet people half way. Here’s what I propose:
1. Have voting at the weekend from 6am Saturday morning straight through until 9pm Sunday evening. (Yes, open all night.)
2. Allow people to vote over the internet, by post and at ATM machines. Of course, security issues arise but the use of pre-registration and PIN numbers can be used. (If people have confidence enough to use it to manage their money, they can use it to vote.)
3. Organise mobile polling booths to visit isolated estates, outlying areas, the elderly, the disabled and those without transport. Again people could pre-register.
4. Areas with low voter turnout should be targeted. Some deprived areas manage less than 10 per cent turnout. Given the problems that these communities face, making the extra effort to facilitate voting is justified.
Obviously, it is probably too late to put any of this into action before the upcoming general election. But we have votes most years so anytime a start is made is a good time.
As well as that…
Representation for emigrants
When I was an emigrant I wanted to vote and, at the time (1980s & 1990s), there was a big campaign to grant votes to emigrants.
Like myself, most of the campaigners must have come home because you don’t hear much about it now.
I always thought that a blanket vote for emigrants was wrong. After all, no representation without taxation. I think people muddled up two separate issues.
Firstly, people who leave Ireland should be allowed to vote for a short period of, say, four years. This would allow people who are temporarily out of the country to exercise their right to a say in the president, government or constitutional amendment they are going to have to live under when they get back.
Secondly, the great Irish diaspora, numbering some 60 million around the world, should not have a say in the day-to-day running of the State. But they should have representation, for all sorts of reasons.
The perfect place for such representation is the Senate. Five places in the Senate should be set aside to represent the Irish abroad based on areas like Britain, North America and Europe.
The election of these senators would give a tremendous focus for the Irish communities in these places. The election could be carried out amongst those with an Irish passport and those who register as Irish. The latter could be issued with an Irish identity card which would formalise their Irish identity without conferring citizenship on them.
The role of the senators would be to give a voice to those abroad on issues about which they do have a legitimate interest, such as cultural heritage, and to build links with the Irish communities abroad.
As anyone in business and politics will tell you – you can’t have too many friends.