The Irish Times view on electoral reform: democracy inaction

The rejection of e-voting looks wiser with every passing year

Stacks of ballot papers during the count of the Dublin constituency for the European elections, at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Even the results phase of the Eurovision Song Contest, for many the only reason to watch the competition, cannot come close to the nail-biting drama of an Irish general or local election count. The prospect of another 28 days counting in the Ireland South constituency may appal those concerned only with the cost of elections. But they do not appreciate that the way we vote – eccentric and long-winded as it may be – is essential to the legitimacy of the whole electoral process. It is, like the referendum, a part of our political culture.

Past attempts by politicians to reform the PR/STV system to dilute key elements of it have been firmly rebuffed by voters wedded to a system that gives them a huge say over which parties and which candidates from those parties represent them. And their rejection of electronic voting – a decision that looks wiser with every passing year – will mean politicians will move cautiously on the idea, broached by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week, of electronic counting.

How was it possible that a returning officer had to improvise over the well-signalled problem of how to count the final Brexit seats?

That is not to say that our voting system does not need reform. There is a glaring need for a standing, independent electoral commission to supervise and conduct elections and referendums. Multiple referendum commissions have called for such a permanent body. The current Government, like others before it, has promised to act but the delays are inexcusable.

Dispersed responsibilities between various bodies, some of them ad hoc, for everything from designing ballot papers to drawing boundaries, registering voters and political parties, and monitoring political spending, will inevitably lead to inefficiencies, injustices and weaknesses in the system.

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How was it possible, for example, that a returning officer had to improvise over the well-signalled problem of how to count the final Brexit seats?

It also makes sense to incorporate the work of the political ethics watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission, into a new overarching electoral body. And with all this talk of a general election, time is pressing on.