Politics in Ireland Part 2: Voting

Last week, I wrote about an overview about Politics in Ireland.  This week, I’m writing about another interesting topic in Irish politics: Voting.

1.  For starters, although Brad and I are not Irish citizens, we are still eligible to vote in local elections.  These elections are the equivalent of municipal elections in the US.  When we first moved here, a local elections official dropped off a voter registration card for us.  We tried to explain that we were ineligible, since we weren’t citizens.  He looked at me as if I was nuts, and told me that “Of course you can still vote in the local elections!”

2.  There is no “Absentee” voting.  If you aren’t here on the day, you don’t get to vote.  Period.  To some degree, this makes sense. There are between 1M and 3M (depending on the source) Irish passport holders living abroad.  About 770,000 of those individuals were born in Ireland, and most of the rest are 2nd or 3rd generation Irish.  If everyone who holds Irish citizenship was allowed to vote, even if they never intend to live here, then a huge portion of the electorate would be making the decisions that they themselves do not intend to live with.  Given the size of the diaspora, it makes little sense to have them all vote.  I know there is an equally valid counter argument to this viewpoint, i.e. the American absentee ballot system, however this policy does go a long way to explaining why voter participation is so high (appx 64% in 2011) in Ireland.  Use it or lose it!

3.  For voting, Ireland uses the “Single Transferable Vote” system.  As a voter, you pick your top 3 candidates, and the order that you select them.  If for some reason, your #1 candidate does not have enough votes to win his/her seat, your vote is transferred to your #2 choice, and then to your #3 choice, if necessary.  It seems complicated, but once you understand the system, it actually seems quite fair.  The STV system eliminates the challenge that many American voters feel about voting for a third party candidate, the feeling that they are “throwing their vote away”.  With the STV system, you get to choose more than one candidate for the seat, thus improving your chances that at least one of your choices will emerge victorious. You can read more about STV here.

4.  Less “Election-Night” hype.  When the polls close for an election, the ballots are locked away until morning, when the vote counting starts.  There is none of the all-night parade of electoral commentary.  The votes are counted with representatives of all parties present, but there is not as much media fanfare as there is in the US.

5.  Again, all politics is local…really local.  When was the last time your congressional representative showed up at your front door?  Any candidates drop by to personally introduce themselves in the weeks leading up to the election?  Unless you happen to live in Iowa or New Hampshire, your answer to these questions is likely “Never.”  In Ireland, door-to-door canvassing is an integral part of campaigning.  In the last elections, last spring, we had candidates from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Socialist, Green Party, Labour, Sinn Féin, and an independent candidate come by the house (that I know of).  I am certain that I would never get that kind of interaction with my state or congressional representatives in the US.  Brad and I created a list of questions to ask the candidates – mainly questions about the building of a new school (we have totally turned into THOSE voters!)  The level of interaction definitely has its downsides – like constituents calling their representative to complain about every little thing.  But still, I like that the politicians aren’t as distant from their constituency.

Next week, I’ll write about some of the downsides of Irish politics, and European politics in general. (Hint: it’s sloooowww.)