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Is 50/50 democratic in real terms?

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  • 14-02-2019 12:13am
    #1
    Posts: 0


    I'm not sure this is the right section, feel free to move mods!

    My question involves referenda.

    Is 50/50 the best way? Is winning a vote that makes huge constitutional changes by 50.1% really fair?

    My personal belief would be that a chane to a constitution by referenda should be won by a by a larger margin. Maybe as high as 60/40.

    My reasoning would be
    That it would show that it demonstrates that it truly is the will of the people to change the constitution.

    That the target for those pro or anti is higher than a straight 50%, so arguments need to made properly.

    If a vote is lost by 50.1%-59.9% the change side gets to call it again, with a time limit set to a maximum number of years, (say 3-5 years max). Arguments can be made more forcibly, and voters know what's at stake.

    True, we wouldn't have won the divorce referendum, but it would have run again and I would say that it would have passed the 60% threshold the second time around.

    I believe some countries operate like this? I don't know where though.


Comments

  • Registered Users Posts: 13,754 ✭✭✭✭Inquitus


    Not sure I agree, a lot of our constitution was written 80 odd years ago, requiring a 60% majority to change something from a different era seems like too high a bar, that said, we have already fixed most of the major issues at this point. I think a simple majority is fair.


  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]


    Inquitus wrote: »
    Not sure I agree, a lot of our constitution was written 80 odd years ago, requiring a 60% majority to change something from a different era seems like too high a bar, that said, we have already fixed most of the major issues at this point. I think a simple majority is fair.

    I just checked and I believe 30 of the 37 amendments to the Irish constitution had a result over 60% majority, either in favour or opposed.

    I didn't think that figure would be so high, but I also believe that it sets a realistic target at 60%.


  • Moderators, Business & Finance Moderators Posts: 10,292 Mod ✭✭✭✭Jim2007


    I believe some countries operate like this? I don't know where though.

    Well first of all you fail to understand the concept of a sovereign people - you don’t set limits on their rights a sovereign. And secondly you fail to appreciate how unusual it is to have a sovereign people in the first place. Switzerland and Ireland being the only two I know, although Switzerland is less so than Ireland. The rest are primarily sovereign parliaments with qualified major voting some issues, although France and Denmark have some limited requirements to hold referenda.


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    There are a variety of ways in which you can require what's called a qualified majority in a referendum process. One is the obvious one - this referendum needs, say, 55% to pass. Another is to say that a 50%+1 majority will be sufficient to pass, provided at least (say) 60% of those eligible to vote in the referendum turn out and vote - this is to prevent a change being forced by an enthusiastic minority without securing buy-in from the population at large. Or, in a country which is geographically or culturally diverse, you can say that you need a majority overall plus a majority in each state/province/region, or in a majority of the states/provinces/regions, or whatever.

    In Ireland we do actually have a two-step test before a constitutional amendment can be made. First, the amendment has to be approved by the Oireachtas, meaning that it needs to secure the support of a majority of the elected representatives, who are presumably somewhat sensitive to the concerns of the various places that they represent, and somewhat attentive to the various stakeholder groups that represent them. It's only amendments which the Oireachtas has already decided that it wants to make that go before the people in a referendum. That's why something like the UK's Brexit referndum would never get up in Ireland - the UK can use the referendum as a mechanism for Parliament to dodge its constitutional responsibilities, but that wouldn't be possible in Ireland.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,557 ✭✭✭spacecoyote


    Could you not go down the rabbit hole on this kind of thing though.

    Is it more indicative of the populace if 51% vote in favour of something on 95% turn out rather than 60% in favour on 40% turnout?


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  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Could you not go down the rabbit hole on this kind of thing though.

    Is it more indicative of the populace if 51% vote in favour of something on 95% turn out rather than 60% in favour on 40% turnout?
    Good point.

    You could just say "to be carried, a referendum needs 50%+1 of those eligible to vote". With that rule, the lower the turnout, the higher the margin needed among those voting. But there are objections.

    First, it effectively turns an abstention into a vote against. People have no way of indicated that they are neutral on the issue.

    Secondly, it really requires first-class up-to-date electoral registration. We should have that anyway, obviously, but this system means that if we don't have it, the distorting effect of not having it is much greater. All those names of deceased or emigrated people who haven't yet been removed from the register are now counted, in effect, as votes against.

    Third, in practical terms in operation it's highly conservative - with a small 'c', in the sense that it makes it very difficult to secure any change to the constitutional status quo. That makes sense if your default assumption is that the status quo is inherently sound, and shouldn't be lightly changed, but it make less sense if your instinct is that all political systems are always capable of improvement, and we should always be ready to reform or update them in response to changing circumstances, changed thinking, social and cultural changes, etc.


  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]


    Could you not go down the rabbit hole on this kind of thing though.

    Is it more indicative of the populace if 51% vote in favour of something on 95% turn out rather than 60% in favour on 40% turnout?
    Good point.

    My argument would be that, (especially with such a high turnout) that such a close result is not enough to warrant changing a constitution that would affect 100% of the population.

    It would need to go back to be argued for and against until an agreement was reached by an overwhelming majority of voters.


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Good point.

    My argument would be that, (especially with such a high turnout) that such a close result is not enough to warrant changing a constitution that would affect 100% of the population.

    It would need to go back to be argued for and against until an agreement was reached by an overwhelming majority of voters.
    Your problem this is one of democratic legitimacy. The existing constitutional provision also affects 100% of the population, and on your system will continue to do so even though a clear majority have voted to change it.

    So you need to articulate a strong case for saying why the existing law can continue to affect 100% of the populartion despite lacking the support of "an overwhelming majority", or even of a majority at all.


  • Registered Users Posts: 10,888 ✭✭✭✭Riskymove


    Brexit has certainly got me thinking about this

    Look at the chaos, the determination to leave, even if on a no-deal basis which will harm the UK

    all from a 51.9% vote on a turnout of 72%. so less than 40% of electorate voted to leave which is less again than 40% of population

    I think it incredible that you could proceed which such a divided country on such a course of action


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Well, you could solve that problem if you had the Irish system; constitutional change is only made if approved by Parliament and the the people. Brexit would have fallen at the first hurdle.

    And I think is is probably better than trying to devise a system in which a proposal could get >50% support, and yet be defeated; that just undermines democratic legitimacy, and leaves people feeling cheated. And you can see their point.

    I think you could defend such a system more easily in a state made up of several countries, like the UK; you can say that significant constitutional change can only happen with the agreement of each country, rather than with a sufficiently large majority in just one country. But that's not a principle that could be readily adopted to nation-states, like Ireland.

    Finally, another problem they have in the UK is this nonsense of "advisory referendums", which can be vague, are not protected by the same rules as apply to elections, and yet turn out to be utterly and completely binding in practice. An Irish referendum is about inserting specific wording into the constitution, not about a vague policy objective. If the UK adopted a similar approach, the referendum would have been about a specific legal text whose terms could have been examined and whose implications could have been explored, not about a vague notion like leaving the EU on terms yet to be determined but which will certainly bring you everything your little heart desires.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 768 ✭✭✭Victor Meldrew


    Riskymove wrote: »
    Brexit has certainly got me thinking about this

    Look at the chaos, the determination to leave, even if on a no-deal basis which will harm the UK

    all from a 51.9% vote on a turnout of 72%. so less than 40% of electorate voted to leave which is less again than 40% of population

    I think it incredible that you could proceed which such a divided country on such a course of action

    Problem is this. There will always be those who don't bother to vote and those who can't make it to the polling station.

    As for Brexit, it was an advisory referendum on an undefined outcome mired with phenomenal lies. So that is another problem.

    We shaved a yes to divorce. But the electorate understood the issue. The same test fails with the supposed mandate for Brexit.


  • Registered Users Posts: 19,022 ✭✭✭✭murphaph


    Peregrinus wrote: »
    Well, you could solve that problem if you had the Irish system; constitutional change is only made if approved by Parliament and the the people. Brexit would have fallen at the first hurdle.
    I don't get this point. The Tories had an overall majority in the HoC (do you mean including the HoL perhaps?) and it was their manifesto pledge to deliver a referendum on Brexit, so they had the MPs to do that alone, right?


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    murphaph wrote: »
    I don't get this point. The Tories had an overall majority in the HoC (do you mean including the HoL perhaps?) and it was their manifesto pledge to deliver a referendum on Brexit, so they had the MPs to do that alone, right?
    Under the Irish system, parliament would have to approve not a referendum on Brexit but an actual proposal for Brexit, which would then be submitted to a referendum.

    There's be no referendum at all, in other words, unless (a) a majority of the Tory parliamentary party actually wanted to Brexit, which in 2014 they did not, and (b) they could agree on an actual plan for Brexiting, which as is painfully clear they are unable to do even today. The Tories-fighting-like-cats-in-a-bag phase of the project would have to be completed before any referendum, not afterwards.


  • Registered Users Posts: 19,022 ✭✭✭✭murphaph


    Peregrinus wrote: »
    Under the Irish system, parliament would have to approve not a referendum on Brexit but an actual proposal for Brexit, which would then be submitted to a referendum.

    There's be no referendum at all, in other words, unless (a) a majority of the Tory parliamentary party actually wanted to Brexit, which in 2014 they did not, and (b) they could agree on an actual plan for Brexiting, which as is painfully clear they are unable to do even today. The Tories-fighting-like-cats-in-a-bag phase of the project would have to be completed before any referendum, not afterwards.
    Ah I see what you mean now. Thanks for the clarification :-)


  • Registered Users Posts: 12,775 ✭✭✭✭Gbear


    Another option would be a longer term referendum process with more than one vote.
    Leaving aside practical concerns (cost, logistics), it might be beneficial to have a process that determines not only whether a majority support it, but that the question arrived at is "on the right side of history", so to speak.

    So, if you take Brexit, and the tendency for its popularity to be based on age, with a 5 year referendum process where 2 or 3 votes were taken, you would be able to determine not only a snapshot of opinions, but of the trend as well.

    So, you might say, a referendum passes if either a 2/3 majority is in favour, or, if a simple majority is in favour, there will be another referendum 2 years later, and at that point if the % increases then you can conclude that it's a valid result not just at that point in time, but also you can be confident that it will be in keeping with the will of the people going forward.

    A simple majority for electing officials is fine, because you have regular elections, but it's not adequate for a direct democratic vote, IMO.


  • Registered Users Posts: 10,888 ✭✭✭✭Riskymove


    We shaved a yes to divorce. But the electorate understood the issue. The same test fails with the supposed mandate for Brexit.

    to be honest I would be less worried about "social issues"

    they still need to be legislated for and a range of options could be looked at before the actual system put in place etc. and... it can be changed easily.



    But for such complicated matters as in or out of EU.....or thinking ahead...a United Ireland....I think proceeding on a very divided result would be crazy


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Riskymove wrote: »
    to be honest I would be less worried about "social issues"

    they still need to be legislated for and a range of options could be looked at before the actual system put in place etc. and... it can be changed easily.


    But for such complicated matters as in or out of EU.....or thinking ahead...a United Ireland....I think proceeding on a very divided result would be crazy
    Well, I would point out that the framework we have for addressing Irish reunification doesn't allow for a single vote to decide the issue.

    The process would start with a border poll in NI only. If, and only if, that results in a majority for unification, the result is not unification; it's that the NI Sec of State is required to bring forward proposals for a United Ireland, agreed with the Irish government, for (UK) Parliament to consider. Those proposals would almost certainly emerge from a process which involves not just discussions between the two governments, but also the involvement of NI parties and stakeholders (though presumably certain groups in NI would boycott the process). If, as is highly likely, they involved any change to the Irish constitution, then they would require a referendum in the Republic, and I think it's probably that they would provide for a parallel referendum in NI to affirm or reject the model of reunification proposed. Plus, they would have to be approved by the UK parliament. Only after all those hurdles have been crossed does reunification actually get implemented.


  • Registered Users Posts: 24,384 ✭✭✭✭lawred2


    I'm not sure this is the right section, feel free to move mods!

    My question involves referenda.

    Is 50/50 the best way? Is winning a vote that makes huge constitutional changes by 50.1% really fair?

    My personal belief would be that a chane to a constitution by referenda should be won by a by a larger margin. Maybe as high as 60/40.

    My reasoning would be
    That it would show that it demonstrates that it truly is the will of the people to change the constitution.

    That the target for those pro or anti is higher than a straight 50%, so arguments need to made properly.

    If a vote is lost by 50.1%-59.9% the change side gets to call it again, with a time limit set to a maximum number of years, (say 3-5 years max). Arguments can be made more forcibly, and voters know what's at stake.

    True, we wouldn't have won the divorce referendum, but it would have run again and I would say that it would have passed the 60% threshold the second time around.

    I believe some countries operate like this? I don't know where though.

    For something like Brexit, for me a 2/3 majority would be the minimum


  • Registered Users Posts: 929 ✭✭✭ilkhanid


    No, it's not fair...or rather it's not wise. An election may be won by 50% of the vote+1, but that's no way to decide on matters of enormous import that can decide the fate of nations for decades. If a society is not to end up bitterly divided, then more consensus should be striven for. There should be a threshold of 60% of the vote (at the very least) required for decisions of such importance.
    Riskymove wrote: »
    all from a 51.9% vote on a turnout of 72%. so less than 40% of electorate voted to leave which is less again than 40% of population.
    I think it incredible that you could proceed which such a divided country on such a course of action

    Such a narrow victory might leave the losing side with a resolve to have another referendum in the future to overturn the result...as we are seeing with Breixit, And that mightn't even be the end of it.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,636 ✭✭✭feargale


    I believe that any change I agree with should be passed if 10% of the people vote for it.
    Those changes I disagree with should require 90% support.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 78,411 ✭✭✭✭Victor


    The threshold for any vote should be 50% + half a vote (note that the 50%+1 refers to 50% rounded down, plus 1). Otherwise, you end up with the minority controlling the majority.

    However, the government of the day should realise that if the can only get 50% that their proposal does not have broad support ans the proposal should be suitably tempered. Similarly, if the proposal gets 80%+, then they probably aren't going far enough.

    If it gets 1% or 99%, then something is "wrong".


    Changes to constitutions and fundamental rights should have a brake on them, to avoid the government of the day manipulating the rules.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 222 ✭✭Ted Plain


    It all depends on the circumstances.

    Taking the Irish divorce referendum as an example. It passed by the very narrowest of majorities. But divorce is something which has no effect at all on someone who isn't involved in it directly. Other than moral objections, there is no downside to it. In this case I feel even a one vote majority should have been enough to carry it. Indeed, it it didn't pass the first time it should have been put to a vote a second time.

    Something as cataclysmic as Brexit should have required a much bigger majority. Certainly a 60% vote is where you can speak of a clear decision and from 66% you could call it a landslide. A 51.8% majority is not decisive enough.


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Ted Plain wrote: »
    It all depends on the circumstances.

    Taking the Irish divorce referendum as an example. It passed by the very narrowest of majorities. But divorce is something which has no effect at all on someone who isn't involved in it directly. Other than moral objections, there is no downside to it. In this case I feel even a one vote majority should have been enough to carry it. Indeed, it it didn't pass the first time it should have been put to a vote a second time.

    Something as cataclysmic as Brexit should have required a much bigger majority. Certainly a 60% vote is where you can speak of a clear decision and from 66% you could call it a landslide. A 51.8% majority is not decisive enough.
    Ah, but who decides which proposals should pass by a bare majority, and which should require something more? Is that question itself something that should be decided by a bare majority?


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