Irish election is tomorrow…!

Tomorrow will be the first time I vote in Ireland—and the very first time I vote in any country other than the United States.

Ireland has a two-house parliament, known as the “Oireachtas.” Tomorrow’s election will be for the lower, most powerful house, which is directly elected at least once every five years under a “single transferable vote system of proportional representation in multiple seat constituencies” or “STV” for short.

Coming as I do from a country with a two-party system where “winner takes all,” this mouthful was a bit hard for me to wrap my tongue (and head) around. Now that I understand it better, though, I really like it!

Here’s a pretty good explanation (despite an appalling number of typos!) of how it works:

Single” is crucial – because we each really have only one vote, despite the fact we are asked on a ballot paper to vote 1,2,3… in the order we prefer the candidates. The preferences 2,3,4, etc are our instructions to the election counter, the returning officer, on what to do with our “single” vote if our first preference candidate is not in with a chance of election. Or if he/she, in being elected, has amassed more votes than he strictly needs.

In either case, the whole vote, or part of it, is “transfered” [sic] to another candidate.
Crucial to understanding how this is done is the “quota” – this is simply the number of votes needed to get elected and it varies with the number of seats in a constituency.
In a single-seat constituency – like the presidential election – the quota is 51 per cent of votes cast.
Clearly, only one candidate can reach this figure, so another way of defining the quota is that it is “the number of votes which can only be achieved by the number of candidates to be elected.”
In a two-seat constituency, it would be possible for three candidates each to have 33 per cent of the vote (33 x 3= 99), but only two can possibly have as much as 34 per cent (34 x 3= 102). So 34 is then the winning line, or quota.
In a three-seat contest, using the same logic, it is theoretically possible for four candidates to each have 25 per cent of the vote. But we only want three elected – only three candidates can achieve 26 per cent, the quota in this case.
[snip]
If candidate A reaches the quota he/she is deeemed [sic] elected and the returning officer then subtracts the quota from A’s vote to calculate the surplus.
That surplus can then be divided between the remaining candidates in proportion to A’s second preferences – this ensures that votes for A are not wasted if there are more than enough to elect him.
Similarly, if there are no candidates elected during one of the many counts that the system usually requires, the returning officer counts the second preferences of the candidate with fewest votes and distributes them accordingly.
The two processes – distribution of surpluese [sic] and eliminations – are repeated, often many times, carrying on through the available preferences, until the required number of candidates is elected.
At the end of the election it often happens that the last elected is elected without reaching the quota – this happens because voters often do not use all their preferences up and so votes end up transfering [sic] nowhere.
This feature of the system has two effects – it lowers the effective quota at the end of the counting process allowing some candidates to be elcted [sic] without reaching the quota, and it means that those parties or individuals who are better at attracting lower preferences get a bonus from the system in terms of seats.

Ok, I don’t totally understand it! What is clear, however, is that it offers a voter a much better chance at representation than the system currently in effect in America. It also guarantees small, alternative parties or independent candidates a shot at getting elected.

So, here is a list of choices for my district tomorrow. Four of them will be elected:


As you can see, my district’s three outgoing TD’s (“Teachta Dála” or deputy—one TD is not standing for re-election) run the gamut from far right (Michael McDowell, who I’ve previously compared here to Karl Rove or Dick Cheney) to far left, Daithi Doolan who is Sinn Féin.

For the first time in my political life, I feel like I have choices who actually reflect my politics.

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12 Comments

Filed under 08_brynn

12 responses to “Irish election is tomorrow…!

  1. The system I used briefly in San Francisco wasn’t as complex as that, but it was nice to have options. Of course, when I lived there, I had the glorious option of choosing between a moderate Democrat (who would have been a liberal anywhere else) and a Green for mayor. What a glorious election that was.

  2. Personally I really miss the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) model we use back home in New Zealand.

    At each general election (we just have one house under the british parliamentary system … historically we had a higher house, but that got abolished while we were still a Dominion) each voter gets 2 votes. One for the person they want to represent their area, and another for which party they prefer.

    Of course, the person wishing to be the representative also is a member of a party, so it’s not like they are voted on just based on who they are.

    Now, the majority of seats in the house go to representative seats, but the rest (and it is a LARGE minority) are divided up by the percent of the second vote (the party vote) a particular party gets (the senior old guard within each party always are at the top of the list on the party roll from which the ‘list’ members representing that party are chosen).

    The threshold for getting a seat is 5% of the party vote. However, if you get one representative seat, then one doesn’t need to get to the threshold in order for one’s party to be included with the dividing of the party seats.

    What this means is that we haven’t had a majority government since the system was instituted, and so one party hasn’t been able to just get into power and do whatever they want for the duration of their term (which, thanks to there being no other level of government than the House, under the old ‘First Past the Post’ (FPP) system we had previously, they could do). The major parties HAVE to negotiate with the minor parties in order to form coalitions to govern, who hold the balance of power.

    Moreover, it is possible for a major party with less seats than the other major party to form a coalition with the minor parties and govern, though this is highly unstable, and I don’t think it is something we have had to deal with yet.

    It just means that thanks to these coalitions, there is far more power given to minorities than would otherwise be the case. Also, simply having more members in government has meant more committees can operate, and more bills can be worked on simultaneously than previously.

    I really like it, and it sounds like the Irish system is also a really good system. I think both prove the point that often ‘simpler’ doesn’t have to mean ‘better’ (actually I would argue that ‘simple’ is in general, far more often than we think, a recipe for disaster, but that’s just my opinion and a discussion for another time).

    Thanks for this post Brynn hon, and good luck and congratulations with voting!! 🙂

  3. nightshift66

    brynn,
    My countrymen cannot fathom a butterfly ballot or the concept of ‘filling in the bubble completely’ rather than marking an ‘X’ through the bubble. Lani Guinier (sp) was roasted in 1993 IIRC for suggesting that proportional voting might be a better voting method. Just saying, this ain’t comin’ to a precinct near me anytime soon. It does look interesting, though.

  4. I wish that we had better system here(either one of them would do for me), but!

    Could you imagine trying to teach teh US electorate something like that? We’d have even less voters.

  5. There were lots of lovely fairies dancing on the village green
    There were lots of lovely coleens, the finest ever seen
    And the boys were all called Paddy
    And the girls called Molly Dear
    Sure we’d wrap the green flag round them
    If we had old Ireland here

    If the Blarney Stone stood out on Sidney Harbour
    And Dublin Town in Melbourne came to stay
    If the Shannon River joined the Brisbane Waters
    And Killarneys lakes flowed into Botany Bay
    If the Shandons Bells rang out in Old Fremantle
    And County Cork in Adelaide did appear
    Erin’s sons would never roam, all the boys would stay at home
    If we only had old Ireland over here

    sure an’ the colour o’me heart is fair green wi’the envy i’m feelin’ brynn me darlin’. (in rural kerry where my own daughter is on her way to citizenship and marraige darlin’ is a catchall endearment without regard to gender, only the measure of affection)

  6. Actually I think more people might vote if it wasn’t so much of a vote for the least bad electable person like it usually ends up being now. And how hard is it to rate the candidates in order of preference?

    (not that I think it’s going to come any time soon as both parties would oppose it, but I think it would be great.)

  7. Hurray for STV! It is also used for electing the Local Station Board at KPFT in Houston. Sure, it’s complicated, but no worse than cricket, and it’s far more democratic. It has allowed the Green Party to have representation in the Irish Parliament (Brynn, how the fuck do you pronounce “Oireachtas” anyway?)–and that’s a beautiful thing.

    I see that Incertus has already referred to the variety of Instant Runoff Voting used in SF, so I won’t go into it in detail here. It’s what the Greens use for all officer elections, and it’s not much different from what the sports journalists use for Top 25, MPV & Heisman Trophy elections.

  8. in rural kerry where my own daughter is on her way to citizenship and marraige darlin’ is a catchall endearment without regard to gender, only the measure of affection)

    I understood that, and am tickled pink that you regard me with affection.

    how hard is it to rate the candidates in order of preference?

    It’s a whole lot easier than the California elections!!! There are no other issues on the ballot. No presidential, senate or local candidates. No referendums. Not that Ireland doesn’t put all those things up to vote, but that’s done separately.

    And only roughly 3 weeks of campaigning!!! I was told by a coworker that campaign spending is strictly limited, too. I haven’t heard a single add yet on radio.

  9. dbcsez,

    The Green candidate is going to be my first preference! And I’m so excited that my vote will count, instead of it being a throw-away like if I was in the US.

    “Oireachtas” – Or ack tus.

  10. Sarah,

    The Kiwi system sounds very good! (Btw, “Kiwi” is an ok term to use, isn’t it? I don’t want to inadvertently offend…)

  11. Brynn –

    I like the kiwi system too … there has been some debate about the position of the Governor General (Queen’s representative) and whether or not we want to retain such, etc … personally I am a royalist, and I want to keep the Queen as our head of state, but I’m not an ex-pat, so I don’t get much of a say 🙂

    Oh, and yes, ‘Kiwi’ is definitely more than okay (like we use ‘Aussie’ for those poor unfortunate souls stuck across the pond in a place called ‘Australia’) … my username in a lot of places is some variation on ‘kiwi_girl’.

    [oh, and for those unfamiliar with the derivation, ‘Kiwi’ refers to our national bird (ie ‘The Kiwi’), and NOT the fruit (so, no, we aren’t naming ourselves after a piece of produce). Back home (where the damn fruit was created), the fruit is called ‘Kiwifruit’ not ‘kiwi’. The kiwi is a mid-sized quiet nocturnal flightless bird that has a long beak and pretty vicious talons on its feet)

  12. Ah Brynn, wish I could vote in my constituency but alas I am thousands of miles away in Cambodia where the ruling party won 98% of the vote at the last election – reminds one of Saddam Hussein’s last election eh. Unfortunately there’s no system for expats to vote so I hope the vote goes the way I fancy. I love our system especially when comparing it to other international systems.

    Go forth and vote!

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