How it works: the ‘bonkers’ Seanad election

Membership of the Upper House entitles electorate to vote five times – including for themselves

Like in the general election for the Dáil, the Seanad election operates on the PR single transferable vote system but that is one of the few similarities. Photograph: Alan Betson

Like in the general election for the Dáil, the Seanad election operates on the PR single transferable vote system but that is one of the few similarities. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Local authority councillors have never been more popular as members of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs – voters in the Seanad elections.

TDs who regularly complain about being viewed merely as “voting fodder”, are also enjoying a moment in the sun as part of that exclusive electoral college.

And in one of the quirks of a complex and arcane system some politicians have described is as “bonkers”, Senators who want to be re-elected get to vote for themselves as well as other candidates – and more than once.

It is the local authority councillors, outgoing Seanad members and incoming TDs who make up the electorate for the five vocational panels and get to decide 43 of the Seanad’s 60 seats.

More than 120 candidates are currently racing around the country doing their best to meet, woo and charm those councillors, TDs and Senators to persuade them to give them a vote in the election.

Like in the general election for the Dáil, the Seanad election operates on the PR single transferable vote system but that is one of the few similarities.

Graduates of NUI and University of Dublin (Trinity) get to vote in six Senators but graduates of all other third level colleges have no say.

The general public does not have a vote but civic society sectoral interests get to nominate candidates to run for the vocational panels.

The fundamentals:

The Seanad has 60 seats

Incoming TDs (160), outgoing Senators (60) and local authority councillors (just under 1,000) elect 43 Senators on five vocational panels

Taoiseach of the incoming government gets to decide on 11 Senators

Three Senators are elected by graduates of NUI colleges

Three Senators are elected by graduates of Trinity College (University of Dublin)

Forty years ago citizens voted in a referendum to expand the electorate to graduates of other third level institutions but no government has acted on the result

The electorate:

Total electorate for the 43 Senators on the vocational panels is just under 1,200

Electorate for the three NUI panel Senators in 2016 was approximately 70,000

Eligible Trinity College electorate for the university’s three Senators in 2016 numbered approximately 58,000

Taoiseach’s nominees – the taoiseach of the day selects the 11 but in coalition governments the other member parties usually get to choose some of those 11 who are appointed without having to contest an election

Vocational panels:

Administrative panel - seven seats

Agricultural panel - 11 seats

Cultural and Educational panel - five seats

Industrial and Commercial panel - nine seats

Labour panel - 11 seats

Candidates are expected to have a knowledge, expertise and practical experience of the sector represented on the panel they are contesting

Nominations:

“Outside” nominations – anybody can seek a nomination from any outside nominating body. These are civic society organisations and there are 110 in total.

They apply to a nominating body for the sector they represent under the criteria of the amended 1947 Seanad Electoral Panel Members Act.

Nominating bodies vary from the Irish Georgian Society, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Federation of University Teachers on the Cultural and Educational panel to the Chambers of Commerce Ireland and Construction Industry Federation on the Industrial and Commercial panel. The Administrative panel includes charities, disability and campaigning organisations such as the Irish Kidney Association, Enable Ireland and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland

“Inside” nominations – to receive an inside nomination a candidate must get four TDs and/or Senators to sign their nomination papers and Oireachtas members can only nominate one person.

Voting intricacies:

Voting for both university and vocational panels is conducted through postal ballots.

Each Senator, TD and local authority councillor has a vote on each panel. That means they get to vote five times. And if they have an NUI and/or University of Dublin degree they have an extra vote or two extra votes.

There is such a small electorate for the vocational panels – under 1,200 – that the votes are multiplied by 1,000 as otherwise they would be counting fractions of votes once they move into vote transfers.

And one of the most difficult complications for Seanad candidates is that each panel has a minimum number of “inside” and “outside” Senators.

This means that in some cases a candidate may reach the quota but will not be elected because not enough candidates on the other side have been elected.

Administrative panel (seven seats): minimum of three each inside/outside Senators must be elected

Agricultural panel (11 seats): minimum of four each inside/outside

Cultural and Educational panel (five seats): minimum of two each inside/outside

Industrial and Commercial panel (nine seats): minimum of three each inside/outside

Labour panel (11 seats): minimum of four each inside/outside

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