Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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How to use your ballot most effectively.

One of the great mysteries of the age is that we have exported Aonghus McAnally’s “The Lyrics Board” (remember that?) to more countries than we have our electoral system, the Single Transferable Vote. 

It’s a funny one, because STV is probably the most empowering voting system on the planet. It’s fair in that it is reasonably proportional, it lets geographic areas have a clear representative, and it allows voters to personally choose their representatives. 

It also allows voters to vote the way human beings actually vote, as opposed to the weird “My party is perfect, your party should be executed for crimes against decency” approach many party hacks seem to sign up to. 

STV lets voters really like those guys, hate those other guys and meh the rest.

It also has a built-in feature that almost no other voting system has. It permits you to vote for your favorite candidate and stick the electoral knife Agatha Christie deep into the back of that one candidate you really really want to keep out.     

It is by far the best voting system in the world to watch as a spectator support. Indeed, I’m surprised RTE don’t release an election count highlight DVD after every election. 

The first count result is not always the absolute decider of all the winners, and transfers allow for last minute Millenium Falcon On Its Side Speeding Through Closing Blast Doors drama comebacks. If the CNN were covering our elections, we’d have theme music for everything from the first count to transfers to the final seat, and a Wolf Blitzer (Politics nerds will get this reference) hologram live from the count centre in Laois-Offaly. 

If you’re a sadist, it’s the political system designed to taunt and dangle false hope in front of politicians who thought their seat was safe/lost and are now mocked often down to the last count. If you asked Schrodinger to design a voting system, he’d come up with this.  

It’s a voting system Dante would have loved, save for the fact that Lucifer would probably look at Irish politics and thinks “Eh, no thanks lads, even I have to look at myself in the mirror occasionally. Also: is that RHI scheme thing still open? Actually, how did those DUP canvassers even find our front door?”    

I bring it up because every time there is an election I get a flurry of messages, online and personally, from friends, relatives and readers asking how to vote. 

Most political cronies I know are the same. 

It’s an indictment, by the way, as to how badly civics was taught (or not) in our schools, and also the failure of FG and Labour to deliver the much-promised electoral commission tasked with running and educating all things election. I never saw a copy of the constitution until I found one by accident in a local newsagent, and bought it, which is also an indictment of my sadly un-misspent youth.  

People do know how to vote, but it’s the subtleties of the Single Transferable Vote that give rise to all sorts of myths and questions. Here’s a few of them. 

  1. Cast your first preference for the person you really want. This sounds so obvious, but it’s true. Don’t try to second guess other voters. Yes, parties try to get people to vote tactically, and if your party winning an extra seat is your primary goal then vote tactically. But remember, in the great majority of constituencies the people who come first to fifth, depending on how many seats are in the constituency, tend to fill the seats in the end. First preferences matter the most, because they are the only vote that will definitely be counted.
  2. You decide where your vote goes, not the parties. A clear preference must be visible to the returning officer before he transfers a vote. Your ballot paper is written permission from you to the returning officer who to transfer to and who not to.  
  3. Your preferences cannot affect your later preferences. This is another perennial that seems to have emerged from the mists of psephology. When a lower preference has been reached (2,3,4 etc) it means that the candidate beforehand has been either elected or eliminated for having the least votes available, and so is out of competition for preferences. 
  4. Do not write anything other than numbers on your ballot paper, as anything else may be taken as a sign of political intimidation: that you have been bullied into voting for a certain candidate and have put a mark on the ballot to prove to count observers that you have done what you promised.  
  5. If you want to really try to stop an individual getting elected, give a preference to every other candidate. This means that your vote is available to help any candidate fighting your most hated candidate. The more preferences you leave blank means the less help your vote can potentially be to other candidates. If there is a group of candidates you hate equally, leave them all blank. It means that none of them can help stop any other of them.
  6. No, spoiled or blank ballots do not “automatically go to the government”. I hear this every year, and I have no idea where it comes from.    

We, the people of Malta, and Australia are the only people lucky enough to use STV in national elections. It has its flaws: it makes TDs get a version of the bends if they’re out of their constituency longer than 12 hours, and obsess about the effect of fairies on municipal road planning, but as voter choice goes, it’s hard to beat. 

 
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A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The Unlistenable Politician.

pol books2Repost: Every time you see or hear him about to speak, you give him a chance. He’s an important senior politician, a leader in our country. His opinion matters.

Forty five seconds in, you’re flicking over to something else. Anything else. It’s not that you disagree with him or what he’s saying, after all, there’s some pleasure to be had screaming “You’re a f**king eejit!” at the telly or the radio. That would mean he’s actually said something.

No, it’s worse than that.

Every single time he says nothing. Every single time. He talks and talks and you can hear the cogs in the brain lining up the next trite offend-nobody vague platitude into the breech to be fired at us.

He’s like a football pundit who doesn’t really have any interest in football.

It’s not lies. It’s not offensive. It’s just nothing. It’s all a bit of a chore, one of those offshore gas drilling platforms that has to burn off the excess gas every while, only with him it’s words, all safe and harmless and meaningless.

We’d actually be better served if he just read out funny words he came across in the dictionary, or told us about an episode of  “Elementary” he watched recently, or rolled up a shirt sleeve and showed us a rash and asked us what caused that, do we think?

 
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A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The Curse of the Shoo-In Candidate.

pol books2It’s a uniquely Irish concept. In other countries, parties brag about how well their candidate is doing. Not in Ireland. In Ireland, candidates, especially ones defending a seat, play up how desperate things are, how bad the campaign is going, how “the seat is gone”. There is nothing a candidate hates more than people saying she’s a dead cert, because in Ireland that’s political death. More people have gone into an election as the dead cert and come out with less votes than Gary Glitter at a National Association of Creches AGM.

It’s all to do with the second guessing poker nature of the Single Transferable Vote system. STV is a logical, rational and fair voting system which gives voters a wider choice than almost any voting system in the world. It asks voters to select their candidates in order of preference. As a result, there’s little chance of wasting one’s vote on an unelectable candidate.

But it never expected that it would have to deal with the Irish psyche, and voters who don’t just consider who they’d like to elect, but who they think other people are going to elect too, and so discount their own vote and transfer their vote to their second choice in the hope of getting a second bite of the cherry. It’s hardly surprising, as this is exactly the same way Irish people choose their third level educational future through the Central Applications Office. They’re asked to pick what course they really want, and instead enter what course they think they’ll get, and are then disappointed when they miss the course they actually wanted in the first place. They then vote the same way.

As a result, you have party voters who decide that Party X’s candidate A is a definite, and so instead gives their first preference to candidate A’s running mate, to give her a chance at taking a second seat for the party. The problem is that large numbers of candidate A’s loyal voters are all thinking the same thing, and so the running mate gets elected and candidate A is surprisingly defeated to the shock of all, with voters looking blankly at each other with a “Jaysus, if I’d only known. Sure everybody I know said they wanted him in!”

How do you prevent it? Vote for your favourite candidate first. It really is that simple. Really.

 
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A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The Reckless Voter.

dynamiteYes, of course he’s entitled to his opinion, and yes, to his vote. But he’s not entitled to our respect. But let’s be clear who he actually is: he’s not The Voter Who Voted For Someone You Disagree With. That’s healthy, that’s democracy.

No, this guy is worse. This is the guy who listens to Trump, and knows what he’s saying doesn’t make sense, but it makes him feel good and so he votes for him anyway. Who hears a presidential candidate call on supporters to beat up opponents and thinks “Well, he didn’t tell them to beat up me, so it’s OK.”

Or she, on seeing Bernie getting defeated by Hillary, vows not to vote in a tantrum to “teach Hillary a lesson”. Because Trump will defend the rights that Bernie wasn’t able to?

Or votes to sabotage an EU-Ukraine trade deal not because they care about Ukraine one way or the other but because they just want to lash out.

These are the people who let the darkness in. The political plate spinners who look at all the broken crockery around them and always have someone else to blame. The people democratic theory fails, because it assumes that people will always vote in their own best interest.

They who voted for HIM because he was really tough on the Communists, and when Jewish friends asked them have they not heard what he says about Jews they go: “Meh: he’ll get rid of the Commies. Then we’ll worry about it.”

These are the people who go back to the firework after the fuse goes out, because it “hardly ever goes off”.

Copyright © 2020 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.