Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The right to vote

In the last few months the Irish public have gone to the polls on two occasions, to vote on three ballots. Each of these ballots has had different franchise rules governing eligibility to vote
  • Local elections - all permanent residents, irrespective of nationallity, are entitled to vote
  • European elections - all permanent residents who are citizens of an EU country are entitled to vote
  • Lisbon Treaty referendum - all permanent residents who are Irish citizens are entitled to vote.
For completeness I should note that there is a fourth category that covers General Elections which is all permanent residents who are Irish or British citizens. Then add in the potential for zero, one or two votes per person in the Seanad election and you end up with quite a mix of possibilities.

In the last few years the electoral register has come in for a lot of stick. Each time a vote has been arranged there are stories of entire families, or indeed streets, having been struck off and people arriving at polling stations to discover they have been disenfranchised. There are also stories of people recieving multiple polling cards and even a case of the family dog ending up on the register.

So what is the easiest way to solve these problems? I would suggest looking to the people who know everything about everyone - the Revenue Commissioners. They have an easy way of knowing who ever person in the country is - the PPS number. Everyone born since 1971 has one, everyone who works has one, everyone on social welfare has one, the first thing emigrants do on arrival is apply for one. The Revenue are also among the first to know when you die and so could easily remove the deceased from the electoral register.

On the issue of elegibility to vote in various ballots I would make the following suggestions
  1. Lower the voting age to 12 for local elections and 15 for all others. Engagement is key to get younger people interesting in politics. By age 18 they're already disillusioned with the system. Also, we are making decisions that will impact heavily on the world in which today's teenagers will live, both environmental and NAMA. They should have a voice.
  2. Extend voting rights in General Elections to be the same as for local elections. The current situation is a taxation without representation for the tens of thousands of emigrants in the country.
  3. Do not extend the voting rights for Presidential elections to the diaspora as is currently being suggested. Representation without taxation is almost as bad as the reverse. If you want a say in how the country is run you should have the decency to live here.
  4. Radically overhaul the method for electing members to the Seanad. This is a complex issue that deserves a post all to itself.
Item 1 would require a referendum to change Article 16.1.2 and it is more than likely that any Seanad reform would also require changes to the constitution. Item 2 on the otherhand can be done by legislation thanks to the amendment in 1984 that updated 16.1.2 to allow UK citizens to vote in Dáil elections.


  1. Have to disagree on suggestions one and two. While I agree on getting kids involved and interested in politics, giving them the vote isn't the way. I certainly wouldn't expect a 12 or 15 year old to have a good enough grasp of the serious issues relating to the justice system or taxation for instance that might influence a vote. While I thought I knew everything from around age 4 to age 20, it turns out I was an immature idiot. There is something to be said for age and adulthood.

    In relation to the second point, legal immigrants are allowed to apply for citizenship after certain period of time (5 years?). This confers on them the right to vote. Rather than giving immigrants the vote before citizenship, reduce the time they have to wait to apply for it. 5 years might be too long, but what is the right amount of time to make people wait?

  2. Well ok - maybe 12 is too young, but once you've done the Inter Cert (or whatever the youth do today!) you should be ready to rock. If we were to discriminate on the maturity of the voter then Fianna Fail wouldn't exist anymore.

    On the second point, if we have a provision to allow UK citizens who live here to vote in the Dail election then why not extend it to all immigrants? We don't force them to take out a second citizenship.