Five things we learned from the elections

There’s nothing quite like a good election, and the last couple of weeks have given many of us food for thought and conversation. Is the Green Wave real? How do we encourage greater female participation in politics? Will the Big Two dominate forever in West of Ireland politics, or does anyone have an interest in taking them on? How do new candidates persuade people to vote for them and not incumbents? Is the loss of posters a good or bad thing? And are “they” really “all the same”? We could talk all day about it and it wouldn’t get any less fascinating, but here are a few things that jumped out at me throughout the election campaign and count.

PR-STV is great

Our Proportional Representation – Single Transferrable Vote (PR-STRV) system is quite a mouthful, and is almost unique in its complexity, but it is what makes Irish elections so intriguing. What many people don’t realise is that it’s a tool that can really be put to work strategically; rather than just giving your favourite candidates preferences, by working down the ballot paper you can actually impede your least preferred candidates by giving those you find less objectionable a vote ahead of them. Such strategic use of PRSTV is quite Machiavellian, and also ensures that count staff, candidates and journalists don’t get to sleep or see daylight for days on end, but it’s for the greater good, right?

Teach us how to vote

The fact that there were a whopping 73,766 spoiled votes in the European elections means that we cannot take for granted people’s understanding of how the voting process works, particularly with PRTSV. A significant proportion of these is because voters spread their preferences in one list across two ballot papers; and a Supreme Court ruling in 2015 deemed that these votes which might have been previously accepted based on order of preference cannot now be used. So a
voter education programme – perhaps combined with a “promoting voting” campaign – if done correctly could also serve to engage younger voters, for whom these elections just didn’t feel as relevant as they could or should.

We need to wise up

Post-election, while cynicism endures, it’s easy to dismiss politics and politicians with a sweep of the hand. But no, they are not all the same and yes, you can get involved. Get educated! Local politics in particular is quite accessible if you’re interested. Take for example monthly district and county council meetings. Did you know that they are public; meaning you can go in and watch? Meeting minutes are also available on the county council website. If you have a query or a concern, you can always pick up the phone to your local councillor. Perhaps more public scrutiny and attendance would encourage more effective and action-oriented meetings. And as voters we are the ones responsible for the representation we have, so if you’re not happy with the status quo, you could also try voting yourself – apparently it helps.

Local media is king

While social media is fantastic around election time, as are the real-time updates from national media, nothing, but nothing beats the colourful coverage and detailed analysis you’ll hear on your  local radio or read in your local newspaper. So for goodness’ sake, support them. Of course I know I’m preaching to the converted here. But you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Honesty and pragmatism are not signs of weakness. Saoirse McHugh made waves for her honesty in the campaign, and her willingness to shoot from the hip (and admit when she didn’t know the answer to a question) was endearing. People like people, not robots. While opposition is healthy, on occasion, putting cynicism – and party politics – aside for the common good (“doing a Westport”), particularly in relation to larger projects such as infrastructure and regional development plans would show demonstrable maturity. Certainly in Ballina we would welcome a united front on the much discussed N26. Such initiatives would make for positive PR as well as positive outcomes, and would certainly contribute to addressing the negative perception that seems to hang over politics.

Just in time for the general election and all. We can dream.

This article was originally published in The Mayo News on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.

Image by Orna Wachman from Pixabay 

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