Lower voting age and getting rid of byelections among possible research topics for Electoral Commission

New commission has published draft research programme of areas it could examine between 2024 and 2026

Lowering the voting age, how the number of TDs in the Dáil is determined, and getting rid of by-elections have all been identified as potential research topics for the Electoral Commission, over the next two years.

The new commission, also known as An Coimisiún Toghcháin, has published a draft research programme of areas it could examine between 2024 and 2026.

It is seeking the views of the public ahead of a final decision on what it will prioritise over the short and medium term.

One of the organisation’s roles is to carry out research and make recommendations to Government on possible reforms.

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The commission is independent of Government, and ultimately the research it decides to undertake is a decision for its members.

Its chairwoman, Ms Justice Marie Baker, said the research work “will have the potential to markedly influence the course of electoral reform in this country”.

She also said the commission wants the research “to trigger lively public debate around key aspects of Ireland’s democracy and elections to pinpoint what we can do better at home, and to be a global leader in our democratic processes and engagement”.

Earlier this year, Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien wrote to the commission asking it to research the possibility of replacing by-elections with an alternate list system – one where candidates would be required to provide a list of people who could be co-opted to fill a vacancy should it arise.

He also asked it to study lowering the voting age and limiting the use of election posters.

These issues are all included in the options for research set out by the commission as part of five different strands of research.

One strand is on “electoral law, electoral systems and electoral infrastructure”.

This could include research on how the overall number of TDs is determined; the merits of potentially having constituencies of larger than five seats, and whether Constituency Review processes can be improved, including through the use of new technologies.

The commission’s first major piece of work was a constituency review that recommended increasing Dáil numbers from 160 to 174 to reflect the increased population in the last Census. It was precluded from considering constituencies of more than five seats in that process.

Also for consideration within this strand is research on postering for election events; reform of the Electoral Act 1997; the extension of postal voting; replacing byelections with a list system; residency requirements and voting; and the operation of the Electoral Register.

There will be a strand involving longitudinal survey research and data collection including the development of Ireland’s first long-term National Election and Democracy Study (NEDS).

Another strand of research is entitled “integrity of electoral events” including research into the conduct of post-electoral event reviews to assist the Commission in enhancing and safeguarding of Ireland’s electoral processes.

The “education, public engagement and inclusion” strand could looking at extending the voting age which has stood at 18 years of age since 1973.

It could also include research on increasing democratic engagement including among under-reached groups; the diversity of candidates for elections and ways to increase this; and increasing political participation and electoral turnout by people experiencing homelessness.

Another strand entitled “blue sky/curiosity-driven research” provides an opportunity for researchers and the public “to suggest original and innovative research topics falling outside more traditional themes”.

People are being asked to give their views on the draft research programme by January 12th via an online form, by email to research@electoralcommission.ie or by post to the Electoral Commission, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times