Constitutional Convention: Dail Electoral Reform, Part Two

Continuing on from my last post, here are some more brief thoughts on some general topics related to the reform of the Dail electoral system.

Single-Seat Constituencies

An interesting idea, to be sure. Ireland’s current system allows for larger constituencies served by anywhere between three to five TD’s. Single-seat constituencies, on the lines of those utilised by the United Kingdom, would see Ireland’s Dail representatives relegated to much smaller geographical areas. There would be a greater amount of separate elections when choosing the legislature, balanced out by the smaller catchment areas.

Positives are that each TD has a more specific area and section of the population to represent, cutting down on their workload and making sure that, if you have no problem with the parish pump side of things, they have a better chance to do better work for their local communities. Some of the more negative aspects of PR-STV get cancelled out when only one seat is available, as the complexity of an election is reduced drastically, while still retaining the key essence of the transferable vote system. Each member of the legislature can be more easily recognisable as a “winner”, since they must have been able to garner 50% of the vote in only a few counts (in most cases).

On the other hand, the greater amount of elections causes more hassle during the actual process, such contests could take on the aspects of local election campaigns due to the receding electoral area and such a system invariably brings most of its benefits to the largest parties, one of the reasons that Westminster has been dominated by just three, and just two, for a large amount of its history.

I have a certain amount of time for this idea, but am ultimately opposed due to the inherent disadvantage it offers to smaller parties, independent candidates and new candidates. This is the kind of system that simply entrenches current political powers, and does not aid in the furtherance and evolution of democracy.

Recalls

Ah, now here’s an idea. In principle, I have no problem with it at all, and am very open to being convinced that it could work. If unsatisfied with the performance of their TD, a group of constituents of an selected number can express their disapproval in a formal manner, forcing that TD to face an initial plebiscite on his/her retaining her position, or just a normal election done on bye-election lines.

All well and good. American employs such a system in a lot of places and to good effect. If a politician does something bad, the electorate have the chance to call him/her to account.

But it’s hard to really work it in to Irish politics, not without changing the Irish electoral system entirely. Let’s take Mick Wallace as an example. Wallace is the kind of guy you can imagine having to face a recall election due to his behaviour, but the math doesn’t exactly seem fair. In 2011, he was elected on the first count in Wexford with 13’339 votes, which constituted 13.79% of the first preferences.

So, if the citizens of Wexford want Wallace recalled, how many do they need? The vast majority of the people of Wexford, over 85% of those who voted in 2011, didn’t vote for him. How high a threshold are we setting?

Because you can’t leave it too low, or you risk a legislature that is crippled with an inability to actually govern, for fear of every decision bringing the threat of recall from some segment of unhappy voters, and it can’t be too high or else the whole exercise becomes pointless.

So, what about Wallace? 50% of voters required to sign the petition? Or as many as initially voted for him? I can see that happening all too easily. Way too easily really, considering the actual nature of his support.  More then? 60%? 70%? How is this to be determined?

But even if you do find the perfect number, it still isn’t fair, because Wallace faces a recall election dramatically different to his original contest, because it is just his seat up for grabs.

That makes for a quota of 50% of the votes (as opposed to the usual 20%), something Wallace would be very far off of given his previous performance, and a much easier road to beat him for somebody else. Is that fair? The recall system can’t exist if it stacks the deck against the target so much, otherwise it’s too potent a weapon to be wielded.

Unless we alter PR-STV, something I’m already on record as wanting to retain, or submit to a two-party system ala the United States, a terrible system to contemplate, recalls won’t work here.

Selection Of Ministers

Lastly, just to throw in one last thing I’ve imagined fondly for a while, I would favour altering our electoral system and the general rules of government and the Dail to make Ministerial positions available for unelected representatives. The positives and negatives to this approach are obvious, but I feel it would be an acceptable solution to concerns of Ministers misusing their powers to benefit their own electoral areas. If Ministerial appointment further had to be approved by the President and a select committee (or even a reformed Oireachtas in general, with a high degree of passing mark required), it could ensure that appropriate people, skilled in their respective fields and unburdened by the ever-present concern of appeasing a specific electorate, could be become cabinet members, such as is the system in the United States.

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