An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Voting System.

I voted Fianna Fail, and Fianna Fail got in? Huh?

The Irish voting system, the single transferable vote (STV), is unique in the democratic world for one feature. Unlike almost any other voting system, STV allows you to vote against someone. But what’s most extraordinary is that most Irish voters don’t seem to know this.


Supposing you hate some bastard on the ballot paper. I mean really hate the guy. What do you do? Many Irish voters vote for some one else, and just avoid giving him a preference. But then, they don’t give preferences to other candidates they may not hate but don’t know or just don’t like but not as much as the bastard. Know what you’ve done? You’ve helped him, that’s what.

Here’s how it works: If you really hate someone, and want to stop them, leave their box blank and give every other candidate a preference. Everyone. That means that your vote will constantly be available during the count to be used against the guy you hate, where if you leave any other boxes blank, your vote can’t help them beat the guy.

Of course, that’s not why we have STV. Primarily we have it, not to ensure minority representation, but because it is the cruellest electoral system devised for use against candidates, because it doesn’t give a clear result, but subjects them to count after count before tantalisingly snatching away a seat at the last minute. It is actually amazing that we don’t have candidates keeling over regularly at counts from massive heart attacks (Ever notice how we only ever have MASSIVE heart attacks in Ireland?  Which we Drop Dead from?) or running wild with automatic weapons screaming that all they want is the ” effing result for the 14th count for the love of Jesus!”

The other feature is that we have multiple seat constituencies, meaning that smaller parties can get seats. That’s the theory. The reality is that our system makes politicians afraid to scare off any voter, compete against people they should be working with in their own parties, and elects a load of local grafters which means that no one is minding the national shop to stop, oh, let’s say bankers loaning themselves billions of other people’s money.

It is, admittedly, a better system than the British first past the post (FPTP) method.  FPTP is so unfair that throwing yakshit at pictures of the candidates on a wall as a means of election  would be marginally more representative.  The British invented STV, but they don’t like it. They say it leads to unstable always changing government. Yeah, like we’ve had six elections since 1987, and the results were Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail and eh, Fianna Fail. Unstable? Even the Central Committee of the North Korean Communist Party thinks we’re taking the piss. 

The problem with STV is that it puts more onus on a candidate getting his head cracked open with a hurley than knowing how to run a modern industrial economy. We’d really want to look at that one.



3 thoughts on “An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Voting System.

  1. Thank you for sharing that with me. You can tell him that British Columbia is having a referendum on it this year.

    All part of my Electoral Trivia Exchange Scheme.

  2. My husband says that STV is used in the upper house of the Tasmanian Parliament. I thought that you’d like to know.

  3. Pingback: » Hurleys, economists and election candidates Semper Idem: A blog on Irish politics, mainly.

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