What more can be said about the Seanad referendum that has not be said elsewhere? A terrible focus on moronic savings arguments. A lacklustre campaign. Poor leadership. Underestimation.
And the result, a vote that should have been won, lost, and by a margin so slim that only 1% of those who did not vote could have changed it.
I am bitterly disappointed with the result, for all the reasons I outlined last week. We are stuck with the second chamber now, an albatross around the neck of the Irish legislative process that will never go away. That tight margin – a difference of 1.7% or around 20’000 voters – is a sure sign that of Fine Gael had just tried harder, canvassed more, debated more, focused on the Seanad’s myriad failings instead of its negligible costs, we could today be discussing the practicalities of organising the Seanad’s last years, instead of listening to so many insist that the Taoiseach and the government “must” reform the chamber now.
I’ll probably talk about it a bit more later in the week, but for now I will only say that I would be stunned if the government answered defeat with concessions in the form of giving in to the oppositions demands, especially when the answer was “Retain” not “Reform”, which was not an option on the ballot cards no matter how much some want to pretend or how many voters moronically scrawled the word on their, then spoiled, ballots. I’d expect calls for reflection, for the matter to be shunted to the side in the face of the budget and its aftermath, to be passed off for the Constitutional Conventions consideration, and then to be largely forgotten as the Locals/MEP elections come around. Perhaps we might seem some sop to the idea – the decade’s late invocation of the Seventh Amendment for example – the kind of “Reform” that would be trumpeted loudly but result in no real change in how the Seanad actually operates.
No, today I want to talk about you, the Irish electorate.
20% of the electorate wanted to keep the Seanad and slightly less than 19% of them wanted to ditch it. The rest did not vote.
In what might have been the most far reaching alteration of the constitution in its history, the most substantial change to how the Oireachtas operates in decades, one in five of the Irish people were the victors.
Or perhaps we could see that Friday’s poll was a grand victory of the “Don’t Know/Don’t Care/Seanad, What’s That?” crowd, as the vast majority of the country choose not to participate in the democratic process.
This pisses me off so much, and only a little bit more than the people who think a turnout of less than 40% is something to be dismissed as unimportant. While I would never dream of claiming the decision taken by 39.2% of the Irish electorate should be considered illegitimate, it still stings that so few actually bothered, thus infusing the entire affair with the stench of unpopularity. And, as we have seen in so many votes over the last year, it is not the first time. Barely one in three Irish voters thought legislation about children merited their attention a short time ago.
As far as I am concerned, that 60% of the Irish electorate should be on notice. A final warning.
I know too many people who could vote, but don’t, either out of genuine political apathy, laziness, or, in a surprisingly rare amount of cases, actual legitimate reasons. The sort of people who re-link and RT stories of the latest American politics outrage, who talk about bringing Joseph Kony to justice, who wouldn’t go next door to vote in this country.
This has got to change.
There are positive steps that can be taken. Re-looking at the weekend voting experiment. Two day voting. Get out the vote campaigns that mirror those carried out in other countries. An opening up of the postal vote system. Greater ease to the constituency change system. A NOTA option for those who complain about the offered choices.
But something tells me that there is a gigantic swath of the Irish electorate who would still stay at home, content to whine about government policy later when it directly affects them without actually engaging with the process of how that government is chosen.
So, let’s introduce some consequences for that rejection of civic duty.
Compulsory voting is a system used in only a small amount of countries throughout the world, Australia being the most well-known example. I’ve always looked at the system with some interest, but it is only since Friday that I have come to endorse it fully.
Let me lay out how such a system could work.
Send out a message to the Irish electorate and potential electors: some set period where they can choose to opt out of the register, as in let the government know that they no longer wish to be listed on the roll. In that event, their name and data are struck off totally. In the future, any person newly legitimate to the democratic process, i.e., just turned 18, can choose to enter themselves on the register or not, at any time. But once they are on the register, they are staying on the register.
If you are on the register, you are voting.
If you’re sick, elderly or suffer some extraordinary circumstance, exceptions will be made once all proper procedures are followed. If you’re abroad, a postal vote system like that used in large parts of the United States can accommodate you, as it can accommodate students living away from their constituencies and do not want to become part of a new one.
Other than that, you are voting. You are going to the polling station and voting.
Your vote is still secret. You mark the paper and put it in the box. You can put it in blank, you can spoil it if that is your choice. That is entirely your prerogative.
But you are going to be there and you are going to contribute that bit of paper, regardless of what you put on it.
Because if you don’t, if you freely choose to say that you want to be a member of Ireland’s electorate and then, through your own inaction and fault, choose not to take part in the democratic process, there will be consequences.
Australia uses fines (somewhere in the region of $170 Australian dollars in their last election, roughly 120 Euro), which I am perfectly happy with. You don’t want to vote after signing up? Pay the price. Literally. There will be no lasting record, no marks of criminality on you. But you will pay. Do it repeatedly, and you are disenfranchised. Permanently.
Or, you can vote.
Australia enjoyed a 92% turnout in their Federal elections this year. I saw one site say “just 92%”.
“Just”, like it is some miniscule number.
Imagine that system, where the make-up of the Oireachtas is truly representative of the Irish people’s opinions. Where changes to the constitution can never be accused of lacking popular legitimacy. Where nearly the entire voice of the people sounds off. And lest I be accused of sour grapes, I would subscribe to the idea presented here, that a turnout on the level of Australia’s would in no way guarantee a “Yes” to the sort of question posed to us on Friday. I just want more people to vote.
This is a harsh policy, but I’m tired of treating the apathetic and lazy with kid gloves, of tolerating this issue. There are positive steps to get people to vote, and then there are the negatives ones. We use and contemplate the carrot a lot. I say, why not mix it in with the stick?
And if you do not want to be on the register, if you actively decide that making a contribution to our political world is not for you, you don’t have to. De-register. You don’t care about politics and politics won’t care about you. Oh, you’ll still pay your taxes and be subject to the rule of the government like the rest of us, but you can go about your way and let the rest of us actually form the course of the nation on your behalf.
Or, you could just vote.