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Is it undemocratic that a person with fewer votes than another can become Taoiseach



  • Posts: 533 ✭✭✭ [Deleted User]

    You vote for multiple TDs in your constituency based on a ranked choice vote in PR STV. There’s no hierarchy to which TD is more important. A seat is a seat.

    Those TDs go forward to represent their constituencies in the Dail and all the TDs vote to elect a Taoiseach. Their legitimacy comes from having been elected by a majority of all sitting TDs and they go on to form a government, which must maintain the support of majority of TDs or face collapsing in a vote of no confidence, or being unable to get approval for legislation, thus effectively having no confidence.

    Ireland’s system keeps governments very answerable as there’s really no automatic built in majority. If things go wrong, the circuit breaker trips very rapidly. A scenario like Johnson is unimaginable in the system here as PR STV is very much operating to its full effect and consensus and complex support must be maintained and a Donald Trump just isn’t constitutionally possible, as nobody has concentrated executive power like that - decisions are taken collectively by cabinet and minsters and with the approval of the Dail.

    If you look at the U.S. or French systems, the cabinet is a just bunch of external appointees, basically entirely at the whim of the presidency. Ministers in our system have a democratic legitimacy beyond an appointment to a ministry and can become a healthy and serious political pain in the rear if crossed, as they remain TDs. Same in the U.K. - look at Theresa May absolutely flooring Johnson in PMQs.

    Ireland ranks amongst the most democratic countries on the planet in any objective study, way ahead of the US, France etc and significantly ahead of the U.K. - it’s sits in the same tier as the Nordic counties and NZ etc.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,159 ✭✭✭Brussels Sprout

    Let's not pretend it's a perfect system either:

    Ireland’s system keeps governments very answerable as there’s really no automatic built in majority. If things go wrong, the circuit breaker trips very rapidly.

    This is true but in many ways it's not ideal either. The fact that very few TDs are assured of getting elected in the next general election means that they are all hyper aware of local issues. This has 2 downsides:

    1. They often behave more like local councilors then national legislators. Some of the independent TDs, in particular, don't even pretend to care about national issues and don't bother attending committee meetings or even asking questions in the Dail. Instead they'll devote their issue to dealing with things like fixing streetlights and making phone calls to the passport office for their constituents.
    2. A local concentration of voters can have an outsize affect for an issue that only affects them - even if it's for the greater good of the wider area. A classic example is a residents committee opposing new housing in their area. Any politician that they contact generally will be supportive out of fear of losing a potential cache of votes at the next election. Every single party is guilty of this.

    If you look at the U.S. or French systems, the cabinet is a just bunch of external appointees, basically entirely at the whim of the presidency.

    There's an argument that this is preferable to a system like ours where you have a collection of people who, more often than not, don't have any specialist knowledge, end up overseeing the running of a government department. A classic example was the appointment of Simon Harris, a man who dropped out of college in first year, as the minister for Higher Education.

    Now, obviously the US system is open to patronage (e.g. Trump appointing Mitch McConnell's wife to be Secretary of Transportation) whereby you also end up with unqualified people running departments. However it's easier to find suitable candidates if you're not restricted to a small group of people, many of who's main talent is being electable.

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,301 ✭✭✭Snickers Man

  • Administrators Posts: 53,783 Admin ✭✭✭✭✭awec

    Ireland hasn't had a majority single party government in what, 40 years?

    The current system is excellent at ensuring all voices are heard, it is very representative.

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,301 ✭✭✭Snickers Man

    I don't think anyone claims that Ireland's is a "perfect system" but then whose is?

    With regard to the use of specialist appointments to cabinet posts of people who have not been elected such as is the case in America, we actually do have a mechanism to make use of such expertise. We can use the Seanad.

    In the US, cabinet posts are proposed by the directly elected president but they then have to be ratified, in most cases, by a Senate committee with responsibility for the relevant area. It is possible to "blackball" a president's choice of minister, at this stage. This is the US' method of democratic accountability under the notion of "checks and balances" to limit a president's powers.

    In Ireland, our Constitution mandates that all members of the Cabinet be members of the Oireachtas, ie of one of the houses of parliament, the Dail or the Seanad. A maximum of two Senators can serve in the cabinet at any one time. As the Taoiseach has the right to appoint a certain number of people to the Senate, it is theoretically possible although sparingly used, for a Taoiseach to appoint somebody to the Senate specifically so they can act in the Cabinet.

    I believe the last time this was used was in 1981 when Garret Fitzgerald appointed James Dooge to the Seanad/Senate and them made him Foreign Minister. It didn't last long because the government fell within a year but the mechanism is there to be used. Perhaps we should make more use of it?

    Incidentally, the wags of the time liked to call our foreign minister Deputy Dooge (it was pronounced just Doog) which would have been his correct mode of address had he been a TD. Of course, as a member of the Seanad, his proper title was Senator Dooge. But Deputy Doog sounded much better 😀

    You young people do remember the cartoon character Deputy Dawg, don't you?

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  • Registered Users Posts: 17,981 ✭✭✭✭VinLieger

    People asking questions like the OP I think are generally coming from a place where they are too embedded in UK or American political media and for whatever reason seem to think their electoral systems somehow are more representative or "fairer" showing a complete ignorance of PR-STV. Like another person mentioned a lot of the recent ignorance to PR-STV is thanks to SFs utter mismanagement of their ballots which if they had done correcrtly they honestly might have come away with a majority of seats by themselves. However they didnt and simply got the most seats leading to this silly idea that they "won" the election whereas the parties who "won" the election are actually those who can cobble together enough seats to form a Government.

    My favorite statistic to show those who don't understand this is a comparison for how unrepresentative FPtP is that the UK has in the last 100 years only have had 1 Government elected by the majority of the people ie popular vote and ironically it was a coalition which is more often than not what happens due to PR-STV. PR-STV is without a doubt the most representative and democratic voting mechanism available, is it perfect? No but its far far better than any of the other options.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,159 ✭✭✭Brussels Sprout

     we actually do have a mechanism to make use of such expertise

    The problem there being that, although the Seanad was conceived as an upper house populated by people drawn from certain vocational areas, these days it's mostly populated by the exact same kinds of people in the lower house - the only difference being that they couldn't get elected to the Dail (The only exceptions often being some of the Taoiseach's 11 picks)

    Also, Fitzgerald's appointment of Dooge went down like a lead balloon with his own party at the time. Even if there was an expert in the Seanad these days it's highly unlikely that a Taoiseach would give a coveted ministerial role to them.

  • Registered Users Posts: 25,883 ✭✭✭✭breezy1985

    We don't vote to elect the Taioseach we vote to elect TDs.

    This isn't Murica.

  • Administrators Posts: 53,783 Admin ✭✭✭✭✭awec

    SF didn't get the most seats in 2020, they just got the highest percentage of the vote. FF are the largest party.

  • Registered Users Posts: 168 ✭✭9320

    This is a very sad reflection on the lack of knowledge of how our Democracy works.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 25,883 ✭✭✭✭breezy1985

    How much actual running of a department the TD does is debatable. Harris or whoever will have expert advisors and civil servants informing him. The TD is really just a spokesperson.

  • Registered Users Posts: 863 ✭✭✭Icemancometh

    Easiest way I can think about it. 3 seat constituency, 4 parties.

    Party A gets 1.5 quotas.

    Party B gets 0.8.

    Parties C & D 0.6

    If Party A runs two candidates. Scenario 1 they split the vote badly. First candidate gets 1.2 quotas second gets 0.3. They only get 1 seat. But they top the poll.

    Scenario 2 they split the vote well, both candidates get 0.75 quotas. They get 2 seats but Party B top the poll.

    So that's why I don't think topping the poll is that important.

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,239 ✭✭✭Pussyhands

    Obviously yes, there's no difference in whether you get elected or not, but obviously someone who gets the same total of votes as someone with 10,000 first preferences for example, via 3rd and 4th preferences is not as popular as the one who got all first preferences.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 19,687 Mod ✭✭✭✭Sam Russell

    It is not a popularity contest - it is an election.

    What about the case of someone who tops the poll with .9 of a quota, but gets no transfers and does not get elected because they fail to reach the quota? The voters who gave the candidate their first preference wanted that candidate, but no-one else did, so failed to get elected.

    Popularity works for entertainers, but is not the only requirement to get elected as a politician, but it does help.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,159 ✭✭✭Brussels Sprout

    Unless they both ran without running mates, I don't even think you can even say that they're "not as popular". All you can really say is that they didn't get as many first preference votes.

    Here's a good example: In the 2020 general election in Cork South Central the SF candidate topped the poll with 14,057 first preference votes. The current Taoiseach got the second most with 11,023. There is a major caveat though. Martin had a running mate, McGrath, who himself got 9,236 votes. McGrath and Martin divided the constituency up into different geographic areas for campaigning purposes. So, for example Martin would not have campaigned in Carrigaline (home to at least 10k voters), which is McGrath's home area. Voters there would have been asked to give McGrath their #1 preference.

    In contrast the SF candidate was able to campaign throughout the constituency since he had no running mate.

  • Registered Users Posts: 68,317 ✭✭✭✭seamus

    This is the beauty of the PR system. It ranks the candidates in order of popularity. And being "popular" is absolutely not about how many first votes you get - it's about how you are ranked by everyone.

    Take a simple system where you have 3 candidates, A, B & C.

    A & B are both equally loved and loathed by exactly half of the population.

    Candidate C is liked by everyone - he's not as loved as either candidate, but also not loathed either.

    On ranking across the population, who is the "most popular". Well, clearly it's candidate C. More people like him than either A or B.

    We tend to think that just because lots of people really, really like a candidate than that somehow makes them more popular than someone else who is just "mostly liked" by even more people. That's how celebrity works, but it's not how a democracy should work.

  • Registered Users Posts: 68,724 ✭✭✭✭L1011

    .9 of a quota will nearly always get you elected due to elimination of all other potential candidates, though.

    My local FF TD had .92 of a quota by the time he got elected, albeit there was definitely enough to bring him over quota from his running mate who was the last eliminated. A few elections prior, FG got someone over with less than .9 of a quota on the final count.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 19,687 Mod ✭✭✭✭Sam Russell

    Yes, 0.9 of a quota will normally get you elected. I was trying to illustrate that the first preference vote is irrelevant if you fail to reach the quota. If you do not get any or enough of the transfers, you first preference vote is irrelevant.

    We know our system well, and voters and political parties like to try and game the system to get the results that they want. Sometimes it works and sometimes it backfires. Dick Spring lost his seat in Kerry by 9 votes despite nearly having a full quota on the first count.

  • Registered Users Posts: 24,496 ✭✭✭✭Cookie_Monster

    well actually it does because after the first count the way surplus votes are transferred is totally random based on the order in which votes have been counted. This is because it's done proportionally based on the last batch rather than every single vote being rechecked and the whole amount being proportional. Its a major flaw with the counting process, rather than the voting process though

    For this reason we 100% should have machine counting as then every single vote can be 100% transferred correctly rather than random chance dictating count order and what proportions are used and it can be done quickly instead of the total farce that manual counting is

    Good PDF explaining the process

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 19,687 Mod ✭✭✭✭Sam Russell

    That is not correct.

    The votes are emptied from the boxes and all mixed, which randomizes the votes. Therefore, all votes are as likely to be in those selected to be moved due to a surplus as not. So first count giving rise to a surplus is treated differently to surpluses created at a later count.

    In later counts, the surplus votes are taken from the last batches counted - which would generally be already moved from an eliminated candidate. Now this is not ideal, but it is the way it has always been done and is the least problematic for counting purposes.

    Now, I have always been in favour of electronic counting but against electronic voting - the counting would involve scanning all votes and then using a computer to carry out the count. In that case, fractions of a vote could be assigned as surpluses are created, and the vote would be accurate. [It is only surpluses that would be affected.]

    Once elected, all TDs are elected equally irrespective on which count they were elected on.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 41,062 ✭✭✭✭Annasopra

    Cool. You agree Mary Robinson legitimately won the Presidency

    It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

    Terry Pratchet

  • Posts: 1,010 ✭✭✭ [Deleted User]

    We are a representative democracy. We elect people to act on our behalf , which includes selecting the executive branch. Concievably a government nominated senator, with no electoral mandate, could be selected as taoiseach. Conor Cruise o Brien was selected to be a government minister from the senate.

  • Moderators, Category Moderators, Arts Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 49,458 CMod ✭✭✭✭magicbastarder

    let's say you have voting in a constituency where candidate A gets 30% of first preference votes, and candidate B gets 25% of first preference votes.

    candidate A is elected first. however, (not that it is relevant now) candidate A gets no second preference votes, but everyone who didn't give candidate B their first, gives this candidate their second preference.

    who would you say is more popular? someone who is liked by 30% of the electorate, or someone who is liked by 100% of the electorate? this is why you can't draw simple conclusions from PRSTV voting.

  • Registered Users Posts: 68,724 ✭✭✭✭L1011

    The Taoiseach, Tainaiste and Minister for Finance must be members of the Dáil. Article 28 section 7.

    Only two Senators can be Ministers at a time too.

  • Registered Users Posts: 10,632 ✭✭✭✭28064212

    Not correct. The Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister for Finance must be TDs, not senators. Article 28.7:

    1° The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the member of the Government who is in charge of the Department of Finance must be members of Dáil Éireann.

    2° The other members of the Government must be members of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, but not more than two may be members of Seanad Éireann.

    Just for accuracy's sake. Doesn't really change your point - selecting a Taoiseach is a task explicitly given to Dail Eireann. The OP's premise is nonsense

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  • Registered Users Posts: 24,942 ✭✭✭✭zell12

    Bless our constitution authors for providing us with the PRSTV. It gives a most fair representative voice to the voters.

    Politicians don't like it and twice had referenda (rejected) to replace it with the FPTP in 1958 and 1968

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 19,687 Mod ✭✭✭✭Sam Russell

    It (PRSTV) predates the constitution. It is there to prevent majoritarianism but was not introduced in NI to allow for majoritarianism.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,159 ✭✭✭Brussels Sprout

    This is such a niche gripe - I love it!

    While we're on the topic it always bothers me the way that they round up or down when calculating the transfers of the surplus. Even in that pdf they use an example where all the numbers divide neatly but in reality that's often not going to be the case. In Stormont elections they factor this in and use decimal places where necessary.

  • Registered Users Posts: 68,724 ✭✭✭✭L1011

    It was introduced in NI, and after returning a Unionist majority, swiftly removed to prevent it threatening that.

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  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 19,687 Mod ✭✭✭✭Sam Russell

    @L1011 Thank you for that - I was unaware that it was ever introduced in NI, but the result was the same. Mr Gerry Mander would have been proud of the NI election process.