The count is over, and we have most of a Seanad. How did things turn out in the NUI constituency?
No-hopers (0-500 votes): Jerry Beades, Paul D’Alton, Karen Devine, Owen Joseph Dineen, Luke Field, Ross Golden-Bannon, John Higgins, Daragh McGreal, Michael Molloy, Paddy Monahan
Never got any traction, winding up with around, or less than, 5% of a quota. It’s obviously a disappointment for any candidate to wind up in such a position, but the people I would be most surprised by would be D’Alton, Higgins and Monahan, who I thought ran better campaigns and offered better policies than their vote count got. The worse-off victims of the vote dilution caused by so many candidates. Just about what was bound to happen, when you had an election where thirty candidates were asked to share around 36’000 votes. For others, like Beades and Molloy, exactly what I expected.
Also-rans (501-1000 votes): Deirdre Burke, Enda O’Coineen, Maire Darker, Pearce Flannery, Aideen Hayden, Rory Hearne, Carol Hunt, Barry Johnston, Brendan Price, Kieran Rose
Only slightly more respectable, and in some cases very slight. Party affiliation surely hurt Flannery and Hayden, and priority issues like emigrant votes and the environment weren’t enough to attract enough interest for Johnston and Price. I’m disappointed especially for Rose, who was my #2 preference.
Mid-pack (1001-2000 votes): David Begg, Martin Daly, Laura Harmon, Christy Kenneally, Eddie Murphy, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop
Some of these, especially Harmon, managed to keep in touch with the leaders for a large part of the process, but were ultimately never going to win a seat from Count One onwards. Kenneally should be very happy with his placing, as should my own #1, O’Malley-Dunlop, thought it just wasn’t enough to become truly competitive.
Competitors (2001+): Padraig O’Ceidigh, Alice-Mary Higgins, Michael McDowell, Ronan Mullen
I underestimated O’Ceidigh’s apparent popularity and recognition, and he led the way in the fight for the third seat most of the way before Higgins’ transfer attractiveness became clear. As for the other two, their election was easily the most predictable thing about this race. National profile trumped everything else.
It’s difficult to really extrapolate any firm political trends from the results. Should we say that the NUI electorate doesn’t care about education reform because Luke Field got only 242 votes? Or that emigrant voting rights are clearly not on their radar because Barry Johnston only got 515? Or that they don’t care about mental health because Paul D’Alton only got 430?
No. Because what has happened here, as predicted, is that a significant proportion of the candidates were so similar, in overall policy and political outlook, that they ended up hopelessly diluting the vote between them all, insuring that so many of them would never properly challenge.
To provide an understanding of what I mean, I looked back on the losing candidates and decided to tabulate up the first preferences of those I would consider to be progressive-left. I was looking particularly at those who mentioned Seanad reform, 8th amendment repeal, gender equality and mental health issues as priorities or strong beliefs in their manifestos and literature.
I came up with 14 candidates – nearly half of the overall field, and there were others I could probably have put in there – and between them all they garnered over 10’000 first preference votes. That’s more than the 9’074 vote quota.
So if those 14 candidates were instead one candidate, things could be different. They could easily get elected, and on the first count too. Less candidates means less vote dilution. Less candidates means less voter confusion and voter apathy in the face of that stupidly long ballot paper. Less candidates means a more competitive election for everyone involved, instead of a crap-shoot for first preferences and transfers.
I don’t know how this could be accomplished. The Repeal the 8th crowd, GLEN, the USI, these kind of entities could come together and determine to run their own singular candidate maybe. But, ultimately, this won’t stop the usual football team worth of “You know, I might as well give it a go” candidates, who’ll all get less than a five hundred votes and lament their hard luck afterwards.
Of course, in the end NUI did get a progressive left leading Senator in Alice-Mary Higgins, so you can’t complain about the process too much. But it would be quite interesting if another Seanad vote came soon – looking less likely thanks to the Fine Gael leaderships rather embarrassing climb-down on Irish Water so they can cling desperately to power – so we could see how many of the 27 runners up would go again. Would the majority of the also-ran crowd have the common sense to realise their limited chances? Would there be a whole new batch standing by to replace them? If an election was held in the short-term, maybe, but give it five years of distancing, and we’ll be back again, with around 30 (or more) candidates, more than half of them preaching a liberal and reform-minded ideology, of which maybe one will be elected, maybe.
Still, my political and cultural ideology got a pretty fair deal with this Seanad I suppose, with Higgins and McDowell Senators I am reasonably happy with. I’m very unhappy with the other successful candidate, but what can you do? I guess we’ll be back in 2021. Or maybe a bit sooner.