FOREWORD : In this post I give my reservations of the PR:STV method of holding elections. Please don’t take them as my discouraging you from voting!!!! It’s the most important thing you can do!!!!! However flawed the method any vote is better than no vote!!!!
Ahead of today’s General Election vote, RTÉ did one of their “Montrose-splain” videos, using schoolchildren to illustrate how the PR:STV system works. Production-wise, it is excellent. Information-wise, I feel it is misleading.
First, just in case there is any doubt, I am entirely in favour of proportional representation voting. The “first past the post” system the UK insists on using isn’t just archaic, nor is it just mathematically flawed; it is downright unethical.
But PR is far from a single entity in itself. And the one used in Ireland, the “single transferable vote”, is so complicated that I reckon as many adults would need the above refresher course as much as children would. Unfortunately, to create their simplified example in the video, RTÉ have both left out and glossed over some of the method’s most undemocratic aspects.
First and foremost, in the example above, there are only two seats on offer, and the “parties” are each running just the one candidate. This means that you cannot have the practices we see today, where the bigger parties run two or more candidates in a constituency and “manage” their voters in an effort to get more than one over the line.
I remember watching some RTÉ election day punditry in years gone by when Willie O’Dea was being interviewed from his Limerick constituency. He topped the poll by a whopping majority, yet rather than be congratulated by his fellow party member Dermot Ahern who was in the studio, the former Foreign Minister gave out to him for not manipulating his loyal voters to make sure a second FF candidate also got a seat.
People should be able to vote for the candidate they want – it’s not rocket science, although as far as election methods go, PR:STV does a decent enough impression and it is totally unnecessary.
For me, the practise of parties running multiple candidates in the same constituency is almost as undemocratic as first past the post. The principal benefit of PR is meant to derive from the fact that voters choose an alternative ideology to their first one, yet with our brand of STV, most of those who vote FF or FG with their first pick will tend to also use it for their second. And to those who say “What if a they don’t like any of the other candidates?” I give this simple answer : “You are free not to offer a second preference”.
All of which means that RTÉ’s truncated scenario is actually more ideal. Two, possibly three, seats should be the maximum in any area. So rather than having 39 constituencies many with 4 or 5 to produce 155 TDs, why not have all 2- and 3- seat ones in around 50 (with a stipulation that no party may run more than one member in each) to produce around 150 TDs or less?
Well it’s not as though my post is going to change the process, but I do believe it should be up for debate. I sense a degree of smugness from general opinion that our system is democratic while the British one is not and if that’s the consensus, and I reckon it should be challenged for two reasons : 1) Do we have to judge everything we do by comparing it to what they do?, and 2) while no method of voting is 100% ideal, I think we can do better than our current brand of PR:STV.
One final point – I really, really want someone to explain to me why I’m wrong, and no doubt someone can. I thought someone was going to make a cogent defense in a twitter thread yesterday but they stopped replying. JLP