So How About We Ditch This System?

STV CartoonIt’s all right for you lot. Through most of the country it’s all over bar the shouting. Here in Galway though – East and West – we’re recounting, recounting, recounting.

Recounting. The word falls like the rain. Grey cloudstreamers bring down votes, one, two. One, two. One. Testing. *Blink* I should have got more sleep last night. Oh wait, rumour coming through that Galway East’s last seat will go to Labour. Hooray! Here in West, we may not know who our TDs are until tomorrow. Even the seats we thought were won, Ó Cuív and Nolan, are up for grabs again.

It was Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who called for the recount. Understandably, when she was on the point of being eliminated. With only 56 votes between her and the next nearest candidate, she desperately hopes that a recheck of the vote will show that it’s him who should be eliminated, not her.

The fact that this other candidate is also Fine Gael will tell you a lot of what you need to know about the Irish electoral system. We don’t have parties, we have truces.

Uneasy ones. As I was saying, TDs are in perpetual competition. The question is always asked, can they ever actually pay attention to their real job of legislating if they are constantly trying to claw votes away from one another?

Then the question has to be asked, is that actually their job? Officially they may be legislators, but once they’ve elected a Taoiseach all they ever really do is rubber-stamp the bills that the executive creates. Perhaps the TD’s real job is to be at the beck and call of the electorate, acting as go-between with the civil service.

But then you must ask, doesn’t that make the TD a sort of useless secular priest, interceding for the citizen with government in order to get them nothing more than they were entitled to anyway? And hasn’t TDs competing as professional insiders only helped create a culture of endemic corruption?

Then again… other political cultures with very different electoral systems are full of corruption too. Perhaps we have more than most, but in return for it don’t we receive a fantastic level of personal service? I invite your comment.

OK, what the ****’s happening with that count?


One thought on “So How About We Ditch This System?

  1. I don’t think you can attribute too much about party behaviour and political culture to the voting structure. If a party is going to be disunited and members are going to factionalise and attack and run against each other amd , that can occur equally well in, say, the pre-selection process for candidacy in single-ember electorates or onto ticket positions in STV with group voting.

    In Australia, Tasmania and the ACT both use STV in 5-7 member seats, with no group voting option and randomised candidate order on each ballot (Robson Rotation), meaning that aside from high profile candidates such as party leaders and ministers, it’s a bit of a crapshoot who gets elected in the last couple of positions.

    That doesn’t actually get much comment, though – I mean it’s funny when a deputy premier is ousted by an inexperienced random from their own party, but that’s precisely the benefit of a Prop-Rep system where the party’s list order doesn’t mean much – people can vote against unpopular members of a party whilst still supporting that party.

    There’s some other differences in our cultures of course, that makes comparisons hazardous. Firstly, we’re a historically two-party system accustomed to majority government (with the Senate as a check on the government at a federal level). The minority government with Green support currently running Australia is virtually unprecedented, and evne in Tasmania and the ACT with STV systems, the rise of the Greens and the consequential development of a three-party system is a recent pheonomenon.

    Then there’s the fact that we’re a federal system and so the only STV elections occur in the smallest state (Tassie) and the city-state that is the Australian Capital Territory – this means lower profile politics and less grounds for attacking each other or bribing locals with vast patronage networks. The Senate does STV with group voting, so most Australians’ experience of proportional representation is one in which parties control their internal candidate hierarchy process fairly tightly.

    There’s also the fact that exhaustive preferences is mostly compulsory except in NSW and QLD state elections, so not only is voting compulsory, but giving a preference on EVERY candidate is also compulsory. This wider participation (95% turnout) probably reduces the ability to win votes by rallying turnout or speaking to your own party’s base.

    Finally, there’s the insane party discipline in Australian politics. An MP criticising their party, much less voting against it, is very very rare, and always newsworthy. Labor has had a policy of absolute caucus solidarity for over a century, the Liberals use the tactical designation of “conscinence votes” solely to forestall internal conflict over social issues which split the conservatives and the liberals, and we Greens have never really faced being split in a parliamentary vote over something.

    One other note – the endless recounts. Australia is a big country so postal votes don’t close til two weeks after election night. Everything counted on election night is provisional and approximate – the broad outline is known, most contests are known, but the very close single member contests) and the last spot (in the Australian Senate races and in Tassie and the ACT) are unknowns until everything is officially delcared two weeks later.

    Indeed, with ballots counted at the polling place instead of being sent to a central location (some electorates are many times larger than Ireland) it’s impossible to even do a final preference distribution even with ordinary votes.

    So the fact that you’re seeing endless recounts on election night, and finding this delayed and silly, is actually a consequence of the fact that you’re used to everything being known mere hours after the polls close.

    Yay long posts…


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