As my Irish readers and I go to the polls today to elect a new president, amend our constitution and in one constituency elect a new member of parliament, a thought about the voting system we will use, the Single Transferable Vote. STV allows voters to rank candidates in preference, and, in these elections, for candidates with low vote tallies to be eliminated, and their preferences distributed, until a winner gets over 50% of the remaining votes. I was reminded recently of a visit to Ireland some years ago by some British MPs to study the system, where they visited polling stations and the count during the general election, and a comment they all made in different ways stayed with me. They were really surprised at the amount of time people took in the polling station to decide on their preferences.
That’s the thing about STV. Not only does it allow you to make a symbolic vote for a candidate you know won’t win, but also for your vote to still remain in play with your preferences. Not for the Irish the bizarre British system of voting for one guy and accidentally getting someone else elected. STV lets you vote the way you want, and by giving your last preference to the candidate you really hate, you vote can help block him or her. It’s a very expressive system, and allows Irish votes to subtly express what they mean: “I really like her, I’ll settle for him, but no way do I want THAT guy to win!”
Even people like me, who want to change the voting system, want to add something onto STV, not abolish it, because as a voter’s tool, it works, and it works well.