Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Electoral Reform

A while back I posted some thoughts on our voting system and suggested a few changes that I would make to it. After last night's Oireachtas Committee meeting in TCD it seems like a good time to return to it. At the event, students gave a brief oral summary of a written submission they had made to the committee. Some of the presentations focused on the mechanics of elections such as using the Gregory method for transfer of surpluses or order of candidate names on ballot papers. Others focused on participation through extending voting to ex-pats, addressing the gender imbalance in politics and reducing the voting age to 16. Each of the presentations was the responded to by a member of the Oireachtas committee.

There followed a debate chaired by John Bowman with Noel Dempsey, Ivana Bacik, Justice Frank Clarke and Prof Ken Benoit joining Sean Ardagh and Jim O'Keefe on the panel. There were also contributions from the floor by Joanna Tuffy, Gemma Hussey, Prof David Farrell and many members of the public. A lot of the discussion centred around women's participation in politics and whether there should be gender quotas built into the system. Other topics covered included the method for reform and whether any modifications to the system by elected TDs and Senators could accepted by the public as honest efforts at improvements rather than a cynical exercise in protecting themselves.

Seeing as this was a meeting of the Committee on the Constitution focusing on the electoral system for members to Dáil Éireann, a lot of the issues raised were actually outside the scope. Most items such as gender quotas, ballot paper order and the franchise can all be changed using legislation without recourse to changing the constitution. So what items would I like to see modified in Article 16?
  • 16.1.1 - Why do you need to be 21 to be a member of the Dáil?
  • 16.1.2 - Reduce the voting age to 16. I have rolled back from my more extreme point of 15 (12 for locals)
  • 16.1.5/6 - Introduce a list system to avoid elections being popularity contests. This system should retain multi-seat constituencies and PR-STV for about 100 members and then elect about 60 from the list.
  • Add a subsection to 16.1.1 introducing time limits for membership of the Dáil, maybe 3 sessions or 12 years, which ever is longer
  • 16.1.7 - Add a time limit for seats being kept vacant. 3 months should be sufficient.

Of course, these changes should only be part of a wider change in the system of politics in the country. We need a stronger separation of legislative and executive. We need more powers and responsibilities devolved to local government. We need to take a long, hard look at the role and composition of the Seanad. We need to have better engagement between politics and the public on matters of policy. We need the system to encourage participation from all walks of life. Will any of this be delivered in the near future? I doubt it but we can all keep chipping away.

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