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Non Geographical Constituencies?


Finbar10

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Various voting system reforms have been suggested to lessen the effects of "parish pump politics" in Ireland, e.g. a list system, larger PR constituencies, or even a single national constituency. But recently there was a rather novel suggestion on the politicalreform.ie website (see the post Do we need geographical constituencies? ).

The basic idea is that all connection between constituencies and geographical location is severed. Each citizen on reaching voting age is randomly assigned to a constituency, an assignment which lasts for life. It would be no problem keeping the current system of up to 5-seat PR constituencies. But instead of having 40 or so geographically based constituencies, we would have a similar number of constituencies whose electors are randomly selected from the population at large.

This means that the electorate for any given constituency would be randomly distributed and scattered throughout the entire voting population. So it becomes impossible to regionally buy an electorate by building a school or road in the locality. A prospective TD is going to have to be much more national in his outlook. The voting dynamics would probably be quite similar to our current system, there would likely be incumbent TDs for each seat and a similar distribution of parties. Whereas the voting dynamics of having a single national constituency could be quite different.

There's also the possibility of weakening dynastic politics. If a person was restricted to going for election to the Dáil only in the constituency to which they belonged (i.e. were randomly assigned to upon reaching voting age), then it's likely the children of TDs would be assigned to different constituencies to their parent, hence would have to face an entirely different electorate if they went for election themselves.

Of course there are lots of problems with this suggestion. The logistics could be very difficult. It would be possible to produce electoral lists for the constituencies but how would one canvas to such a scattered electorate? Building political constituency organizations would also be a nightmare. And would one have to travel across half the country if one wants to consult with one's TD? Maybe increasing use of the internet would help with such things. Maybe a system that might become more possible in the future. And if one has a genuinely local issue such a system isn't going to be of much help.

Have my doubts if people would really be prepared to give up having a local representative. There are advantages in local representation after all. But thought there was definitely *something* to this idea. Certainly a completely different angle on tackling political localism that hadn't even occurred to me before.
 


SideysGhost

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Hmmmm. Interesting alright.

If we had a real functioning system of local councils who actually had power and fund-raising powers and had control over local issues then that in itself might reduce the parish-pump aspect for TDs.

I think ideas like your randomly-assigned constituencies, a single national constituency, or maybe even functional or demographically-based constituencies would probably only work for the under-40 internet generation. But why not combine them all in the interim?

I always thought the Seanad Panels had the germ of a good idea, atrociously implemented. What if there were seats in the Dáil elected from functional constituencies e.g. agriculture, community & voluntary, industry - the actual panels we can argue over but you get the idea. People self-register on the electoral panels that interest them (maybe only allowed to vote on up to 2 panels?) and there are websites and other modern channels to freely allow the candidates to put forward their proposals and debate the issues with the electorate. Keep some of the geographic constituencies for the auld wans and parish-pump junkies but make them much larger. A national list system too if we like.

Sure it's a mixed system but isn't the Scottish system already something like this, with one vote for the local geographic constituencies and another for the national party lists? There's no reason why not really, and it can hardly be worse than what we have!

I'm just thinking aloud right now so feel free to shoot it down in flames...
 

Panopticon

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If we're doing that, we lose any meaningful link between TD and constituent. Then it just makes more sense to elect people based on a list. It's not that it is a bad idea objectively, but we have simpler and better alternatives that are better in some ways and worse in none.
 

Bobert

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Hang on! How are we supposed to campaign?
 

DeGaulle 2.0

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What about the following constituencies:-
a) unemployed
b) public servants
c) private-sector workers
d) farmers
e) retired
f) students
g) everyone else

Can anyone suggest other constituencies?
 

SideysGhost

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Hang on! How are we supposed to campaign?
See that's part of the problem - the electoral system as it exists is essentially passive. Like Television. Punters sit at home and get visited by canvassers, or absorb info from de meeja.

What we really need is a system that requires and encourages much more active engagement from citizens.

There was an interesting programme on BBC2 recently, The Classroom Experiment. The basic idea was to experiment with new classroom and teching methods that would actively force the students to get engaged rather than passively sitting there learning by rote. Some of it was a bit cheesy but it was food for thought alright.

Course the last thing the neo-feudalist mentality of the existing political class wants is an engaged and questioning active electorate!
 

eoinod

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I always thought the Seanad Panels had the germ of a good idea, atrociously implemented. What if there were seats in the Dáil elected from functional constituencies e.g. agriculture, community & voluntary, industry - the actual panels we can argue over but you get the idea. People self-register on the electoral panels that interest them (maybe only allowed to vote on up to 2 panels?) and there are websites and other modern channels to freely allow the candidates to put forward their proposals and debate the issues with the electorate. Keep some of the geographic constituencies for the auld wans and parish-pump junkies but make them much larger. A national list system too if we like.

Or why not just give the Seanad a more prominent role in Irish politics so that these panels actually work?

If there are non geographical boundaries, who looks after the constituencies? Where would people vote?

I don't really think it is practical.

I am not a fan of these plans for electoral reform (though I do really think that the Seanad needs massive reformation. It should perform an important function in our democracy). Our current electoral system is, as far as I can see, by far the most democratic system available.

The reason we have a load of gombeens in the Dáil is not a fault of the "system" but of the electorate who voted them in there. Most of the worst gombeen-men are some of the most electorally popular candidates in the country.

What is needed is for the electorate to realise their responsibilities and take ownership of their democratic rights and exercise them properly. They need to realise the importance of their vote and prepare themselves for it accordingly
 

Bobert

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See that's part of the problem - the electoral system as it exists is essentially passive. Like Television. Punters sit at home and get visited by canvassers, or absorb info from de meeja.

What we really need is a system that requires and encourages much more active engagement from citizens.

There was an interesting programme on BBC2 recently, The Classroom Experiment. The basic idea was to experiment with new classroom and teching methods that would actively force the students to get engaged rather than passively sitting there learning by rote. Some of it was a bit cheesy but it was food for thought alright.

Course the last thing the neo-feudalist mentality of the existing political class wants is an engaged and questioning active electorate!

So if John and Mary have to vote for Michael they've to look into everything themselves because Michael can't possibly visit every single person registered in his constituency which in this instance is Cork because they live all over the country? Right, that plan doesn't work.
 

SideysGhost

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If there are non geographical boundaries, who looks after the constituencies? Where would people vote?
While I agree with your comment that the electorate themselves need to start taking their democratic responsibilities way more seriously, this is Ireland and change never happens here spontaneously. We need a system that forces people to engage and actually think about their vote and its impact on the governance of the nation.

I don't see how your "practical" concerns are concerns at all really. Say you have two votes like the Scottish system, one for a slightly-reformed version of the existing geographical constituencies, and one for the Panels. The electoral register is a dogs breakfast and needs massively overhauled anyway. So why not tie your vote to your PPS number - the Revenue already know where you live so that's the geographic constituency automatically sorted, then you tell people they need to register themselves on one of a range of Panels - economy & industry, environment & heritage, social cultural & voluntary, education & innovation etc. Maybe 6 or so Panels. So people add themselves to the list of the area that most concerns them and they are most interested in.

At election time you get your polling card - "Seamus Citizen, PPS# 123456A, Constituency: Galway West, Panel: economy & industry". You go to the local polling station and get your two relevant voting slips with the candidates and vote as normal using PR-STV. The Panel boxes get collected and sent to a national count. It's not that huge a change really.

Interested people with a track record of involvement in the issues relevant to a Panel who aren't in a political party can more easily stand, if most of the Panel debates are taking place on well-designed internet sites. Why restrict ourselves to the artificial RTE debates when modern technology offers so much more possibility for engagement with candidates? Break the artificial Gatekeeper model which encourages passivity and a lack of engagement and a sense of powerlessness and apathy.

And who needs political parties anyway? They are a relic of the past. I'd rather have a Dáil with 60 engaged interested people from the various Panels coming together to rationally organise the affairs of the country in a coherent manner (despite the continuing presence of the 30 drooling idiot local gombeens from the constituencies) than 166 drooling idiot local gombeens which we have at present. Dáil votes would be more likely to happen on their actual merits rather than as a tribal team sport. And after a couple of elections even the geographic gombeens would dwindle away and the geographic TDs would be of a much higher calibre, possibly.

The entire system we have at the minute is a fossilised relic of bygone eras with its roots in the 19th century. Long past time for a radical overhaul.
 

Finbar10

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Hang on! How are we supposed to campaign?
Yes, that's probably a fatal flaw (at least for now). But maybe in 10 or 20 years time when we're even more networked up, and internet communications are way beyond even what they are today, improved technology might make this kind of thing feasible.
 

SideysGhost

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So if John and Mary have to vote for Michael they've to look into everything themselves because Michael can't possibly visit every single person registered in his constituency which in this instance is Cork because they live all over the country? Right, that plan doesn't work.
Geronoutta that, these days how many people actually get canvassed by prospective TDs in the flesh, who take the time to explain things in detail to John and Mary? Even if you are at home when a canvass happens it's more likely you'll just get handed a leaflet and a bit of auld spiel by some gormless party worker. It's impossible already for a prospective TD to meet more than a tiny fraction of their constituents, and especially given the modern world with shift work and long commutes much more the norm than even 15 years ago.
 

Catalpa

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Each voter gets two ballot papers in a General Election

One for electing a local TD and the other a Party List for electing Senators.

Make the Senate the Upper House where all issues of National importance are decided eg Election of a Taoiseach, the Budget, International Affairs.

The Lower House gets to elect the Tanaiste and has limited but important powers like in a super County Council kind of way.

A politician can only put their name forward for one House per election.

Abolish bye elections and the Government serves a fixed term of 5 years.
 

Finbar10

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Hmmmm. Interesting alright.

If we had a real functioning system of local councils who actually had power and fund-raising powers and had control over local issues then that in itself might reduce the parish-pump aspect for TDs.

I think ideas like your randomly-assigned constituencies, a single national constituency, or maybe even functional or demographically-based constituencies would probably only work for the under-40 internet generation. But why not combine them all in the interim?

I always thought the Seanad Panels had the germ of a good idea, atrociously implemented. What if there were seats in the Dáil elected from functional constituencies e.g. agriculture, community & voluntary, industry - the actual panels we can argue over but you get the idea. People self-register on the electoral panels that interest them (maybe only allowed to vote on up to 2 panels?) and there are websites and other modern channels to freely allow the candidates to put forward their proposals and debate the issues with the electorate. Keep some of the geographic constituencies for the auld wans and parish-pump junkies but make them much larger. A national list system too if we like.

Sure it's a mixed system but isn't the Scottish system already something like this, with one vote for the local geographic constituencies and another for the national party lists? There's no reason why not really, and it can hardly be worse than what we have!

I'm just thinking aloud right now so feel free to shoot it down in flames...
Yes, for something like the Seanad no reason one couldn't mix various systems.
Or alternatively have thought that the Seanad is probably small enough to implement a single national constituency. It has 60 seats. The US Senate has staggered six year terms. Third of seats come up for election every two years. A similar system here would mean 20 of the seats voted upon every two years. 20 seats for election in one big national PR constituency is just about manageable. That would leave at least one chamber less local in nature. Would need to boost its powers somewhat though to match the increased legitimacy gained from being directly elected.
 

Bobert

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Yes, that's probably a fatal flaw (at least for now). But maybe in 10 or 20 years time when we're even more networked up, and internet communications are way beyond even what they are today, improved technology might make this kind of thing feasible.
Bollox. Impossible to do without compiling an electronic database of all national voters, linking all the ones who vote in X and then having to work out a method of canvassing them.

Geronoutta that, these days how many people actually get canvassed by prospective TDs in the flesh, who take the time to explain things in detail to John and Mary? Even if you are at home when a canvass happens it's more likely you'll just get handed a leaflet and a bit of auld spiel by some gormless party worker. It's impossible already for a prospective TD to meet more than a tiny fraction of their constituents, and especially given the modern world with shift work and long commutes much more the norm than even 15 years ago.
Nonsense. You're suggesting that this canvass would only happen in the 30 days preceding an election. I say that the next election campaign begins as soon as the last ballot box is locked!
 

Finbar10

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Or why not just give the Seanad a more prominent role in Irish politics so that these panels actually work?

If there are non geographical boundaries, who looks after the constituencies? Where would people vote?

I don't really think it is practical.

I am not a fan of these plans for electoral reform (though I do really think that the Seanad needs massive reformation. It should perform an important function in our democracy). Our current electoral system is, as far as I can see, by far the most democratic system available.

The reason we have a load of gombeens in the Dáil is not a fault of the "system" but of the electorate who voted them in there. Most of the worst gombeen-men are some of the most electorally popular candidates in the country.

What is needed is for the electorate to realise their responsibilities and take ownership of their democratic rights and exercise them properly. They need to realise the importance of their vote and prepare themselves for it accordingly
Yes, some serious practical problems with the idea. It's a bit out there really. But quite an interesting idea all the same I think.
And the voters do ultimately have responsibility for how they vote. How many gombeen politicians have been caught here in some dubious practice or political scandal and then are rewarded next election by topping the poll?
But do feel some national rather than purely local voting element might be useful in our voting system. Not a fan of list systems to be honest. Concentrates even more power in the hands of political parties. But perhaps the Seanad might be a good place to introduce a non-local voting aspect.
 

Finbar10

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Bollox. Impossible to do without compiling an electronic database of all national voters, linking all the ones who vote in X and then having to work out a method of canvassing them.

Nonsense. You're suggesting that this canvass would only happen in the 30 days preceding an election. I say that the next election campaign begins as soon as the last ballot box is locked!
What's so inherently difficult about doing this? We maintain electoral register lists of all constituencies currently. Bit more difficult if everyone is geographically scattered. But the government already keeps track of where we live currently, for revenue etc.. Canvassing door to door would be infeasible. But in 20 years time I'm sure instead of getting volunteers to go door to door, surely one could get workers to call up voters via some kind of video link? Whatever technology will exist at the time. I'm sure it will be more than adequate.
 

Passer-by

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If there are non geographical boundaries, who looks after the constituencies?
Their local county councillors perhaps? You know, local government providing government services locally to the locals.

TDs are members of the legislature. Their job is to provide legislation for ALL the state - for instance, we need A Road Traffic Act, not multiple ones such as a Kerry Road Traffic Act, a Mayo one etc etc.

Unless we intend to vary the legislation produced by the Oireachtas so that it differs from county to county, then why do we need geographical-constituency based TDs?
 

Bobert

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What's so inherently difficult about doing this? We maintain electoral register lists of all constituencies currently. Bit more difficult if everyone is geographically scattered. But the government already keeps track of where we live currently, for revenue etc.. Canvassing door to door would be infeasible. But in 20 years time I'm sure instead of getting volunteers to go door to door, surely one could get workers to call up voters via some kind of video link? Whatever technology will exist at the time. I'm sure it will be more than adequate.
Because phone banking doesn't work in this country. Nor do large scale public meetings. Many voters factor a visit from the rep into their choices. It's sad, and pathetic but it's true. Unless Mick calls to Bridie he ain't getting her number one.
 

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