From top: Green Party’s Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform in the Housing Department, after his election to the Dáil in the Carlow–Kilkenny constituency last year; Dan Boyle
There are many policy/legislative milestones I would like to see Greens in government achieving. One particular bill I would be invested in, is a bill I know will bring no particular political advantage, but has the capacity of bringing about a better politics.
The Electoral Reform Bill, being piloted by Green Minister of State Malcolm Noonan and currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, will help establish an independent electoral commission in Ireland.
Why is that important? A permanent, ongoing independent electoral commission would become a fail safe for democratic norms here.
It would be responsible for the upkeep and regular updating of the voter register, making it easier and less mysterious for voters to register.
It would act as an honest arbiter in ensuring that voters are kept properly informed, less subjected to propaganda and untruths.
The fitful nature of these commissions has undermined their effectiveness. The temporary nature of each has meant the ability to properly police those advocating in each referendum has been undermined through the knowledge that each commission was a passing entity.
This could be best seen during the 2012 Children’s Rights referendum, when then Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald flagrantly abused the McKenna Judgement in using State resources in an overwhelmingly biased way.
An permanent commission could seek information on the scale and use of resources, in all elections, prior to their being expended.
By continuing to exist after each election or referendum it would acquire the ability to directly take on malfeasance.
A third role, and equally important function, of an electoral commission would be to review and fairly define constituency boundaries.
On the surface this has largely been independent for a number of decades. However the review process has been ad hoc, with government ministers setting out the terms of reference, as and when such review groups were formed. A permanent electoral commission would bring continuity and better objectivity to this.
A new area a permanent electoral commission would have responsibility for is the regulation of online political advertising. The effect of disinformation in recent elections, throughout the world, has obviously been malign. The powers given and the ability to use such powers will be key. Undoubtedly disinformation with the intent of subverting democracy needs to be taken seriously.
The most interesting aspect of the bill are the measures to allow for an increase in postal voting, and for the holding of elections on more than one day.
The pandemic is influencing the physical way we might vote in the future. It also will probably influence the who we might vote for as well.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic via KCR