Dan Boyle: Voting Often, Voting Early

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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 McKenna and Coughlan judgements have seen temporary commissions established to oversee the conduct of individual constitutional referenda, as and when they have occurred.

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

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10 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Voting Often, Voting Early

  1. Clampers Outside

    We’d be better off with a commission on reform of the Seanad, thanks.

    Please stop putting this off.

      1. Rob_G

        The Senate should 100% be abolished – it serves zero function. What purpose exactly would this re-vamped upper house serve?

  2. Zang

    Bad Science Dan now wants to institutionalize his mis-information agenda and give it a statutory basis.

  3. Daisy Chainsaw

    If this voting reform doesn’t involve opening the Seanad vote to the whole electorate or giving candidates for the Presidential election the same opportunity to run as in GE/LE (ie without having to have party backing or suck up to county councillors), then it’s just another expensive, money draining, talking shop.

    1. Rob_G

      Look how bad the last presidential election was with all of the C-list celebrities, nutters, and no-hopers looking to run; if there was not some sort of gatekeeping going on, it would be shambles.

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        Gatekeeping against democracy. Why shouldn’t I have the right to run for President the same way I could run for the EU, Dail, or my local County Council who all attract their own C-listers, nutters and no hopers? the ony people who should decide who is fit to be President are the electorate, not a cosy cabal keeping it as a slush fund for their former leaders.

        1. Rob_G

          The ballot paper wouldn’t fit on an A3 page – instead of all of the nutters being spread out over every constituency in the country, as is the case with the other elections you mentioned, they would all be running for the one office.

          “Gatekeeping against democracy” – yes, this happens in every democracy: people running for office have to pay a deposit, people under 18 can’t vote or run for office. If there were no measures in place, it would be completely unworkable,

          1. Daisy Chainsaw

            That’s not a good enough answer. If Indies and randos can pay a deposit and get rejected at local, national and European level, why not at Presidential level? It’s already in the constitution that you have to be over 35 to run, so why not over 35 with a substantial deposit? The electorate takes these things seriously, even if party shills think we don’t.

          2. Rob_G

            “The electorate takes these things seriously, even if party shills think we don’t.”

            The most recent presidential elections had the lowest % turnout in the history of the state, so apparently they do not. Perhaps because of the farcical nature of the most recent one; if you were to widen the pool of candidates exponentially, I can only imagine that the decline would be hastened.

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