It is widely recognised that adoption of a (closed) list electoral system would give political parties the power to increase the number of women in the Dáil. Women could be placed at the top of each party’s list of candidates, thus guaranteeing their election. However, if we are to see electoral reform, it is unlikely to be towards a closed list system. Few among the political elite seem in favour of it, it would require a referendum that would be difficult to pass, and it may have a number of undesired consequences. Instead of this, a far easier change would be to modify the current STV system towards the Australian Senate-style model of STV.
Since the basic principle would remain the single transferable vote, neither a constitutional convention nor a referendum would be required. A piece of legislation could bring about such a change.
The Australian system I refer to is detailed in the sample ballot below. Each party’s list of candidates is provided in separate columns, with a thick black line separating party and candidate. Voters can choose to vote above the line in which case they indicate their parties of preference, thus approving the parties’ ranking of their respective candidates. Voters can also vote below the line for candidates, thus allocating their preferences to whichever candidate(s) they wish, thus retaining the element of intra-party choice that is lost under a closed list system.
In Australia, almost 95 per cent of voters vote above the line, approving the parties’ ranking of candidates. This means that whoever is at the top of the parties’ list of candidates is guaranteed election. If adopted in Ireland, parties could use this form of ticket voting to get more women elected. Indeed, in Australia there are more women in the Commonwealth Senate (35.5%) than the lower House of Representatives (24.7%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 6 national upper houses have more female members than the Australian Senate. This might be entirely unrelated to the electoral system, but adoption of this Australian Senate-style STV in Ireland, assuming most voters would choose to vote above the line, would give parties the power to increase female representation, without the need for a referendum or gender quotas.
*Liam Weeks is an IRCHSS CARA Fellow at Macquarie University, Sydney. His research is funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences with co-funding from the European Commission.