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  Mon, Jun 11, 2018
Voter turnout and invalid ballots under STV in Ireland
In recent years, a growing number of jurisdictions in the United States have adopted or given serious consideration to the Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) electoral system. At the same time, there have been concerns from some quarters that such a system would lead to a drastic increase in the number of invalid ballots, and even to a decrease in voter turnout.

However, it should be noted that RCV has been in place for elections in the Republic of Ireland since 1920, when the entire island was still an integral part of the United Kingdom. RCV is known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system in Ireland, where the term is used for elections carried out in multi-member districts as well as single-winner races. Elsewhere, the system used in the latter case is known as the Alternative Vote (AV) or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

All the same, Ireland's implementation of STV is of particular relevance to the U.S., due to the fact that in the same manner as its American counterparts, the system does not require voters to indicate preferences for each and every candidate on the ballot. Moreover, voting in Ireland is not compulsory, just like in the U.S. And while elected officials in Ireland are largely chosen by proportional representation in multi-member districts under STV, there have been a number of single-winner contests, most notably among them the elections for the country's largely ceremonial presidency, which has a seven-year term of office.

Since its present day constitution came into force in 1937, Ireland has or would have held thirteen presidential elections. However, in the event only one candidate is nominated, he or she is declared elected and no voting takes place: this was the case in 1938, 1952, 1974, 1976, 1983 and 2004. According to official election results published by Ireland's Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, for the seven presidential elections contested by two or more candidates, the voter turnout and invalid ballot figures were as follows:

   Year       Election       Electorate       Votes
Cast
      %       Invalid
Ballots
      %   
   2011       Presidential       3,191,157       1,790,438       56.1       18,676       1.0   
   1997       Presidential       2,739,529       1,279,688       46.7       9,852       0.8   
   1990       Presidential       2,471,308       1,584,095       64.1       9,444       0.6   
   1973       Presidential       1,977,817       1,230,584       62.2       6,946       0.6   
   1966       Presidential       1,709,161       1,116,915       65.3       9,910       0.9   
   1959       Presidential       1,678,450       979,628       58.4       24,089       2.5   
   1945       Presidential       1,803,463       1,136,625       63.0       50,287       4.4   

The average turnout rate for presidential elections in Ireland currently stands at 59.4%, a figure comparable to the turnout rate in recent U.S. presidential elections. Moreover, voter turnout has not shown a clear downward trend in Irish presidential elections: to be certain, it fell sharply in 1997, but rebounded in 2011. Meanwhile, invalid ballots (including blank votes) have been on average just 1.5% of the total number of votes cast, and that figure drops to 0.8% for presidential elections held since 1966.

It should also be noted that similar trends can be observed in other types of elections in Ireland throughout this century, as shown in the following table:

   Year       Election       Electorate       Votes
Cast
      %       Invalid
Ballots
      %   
   2011       Presidential       3,191,157       1,790,438       56.1       18,676       1.0   
   2016       Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives)       3,305,110       2,151,293       65.1       18,398       0.9   
   2011       Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives)       3,209,244       2,243,176       69.9       22,817       1.0   
   2007       Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives)       3,110,914       2,085,245       67.0       19,435       0.9   
   2002       Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives)       3,002,173       1,878,609       62.6       20,707       1.1   
   2014       European Parliament       3,245,348       1,701,942       52.4       45,424       2.7   
   2009       European Parliament       3,199,289       1,875,920       58.6       46,607       2.5   
   2004       European Parliament       3,143,025       1,841,335       58.6       60,567       3.3   
   2014       Local (All Councils)       3,328,603       1,720,896       51.7       22,286       1.3   
   2009       Local (City and County Councils)       3,297,426       1,905,057       57.8       24,489       1.3   
   2009       Local (Borough and Town Councils)       542,043       315,387       58.2       4,470       1.4   
   2004       Local (City and County Councils)       3,166,033       1,856,570       58.6       36,809       2.0   
   2004       Local (Borough and Town Councils)       529,937       306,195       57.8       5,396       1.8   

The higher voter turnout rate for Dáil elections stems from the fact that Ireland, like most European countries, is a parliamentary polity: as such, the head of government or prime minister - the Taoiseach - is chosen by the party or parties commanding a majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

In conclusion, STV in Ireland has led to neither a decline in voter turnout, nor to significant invalid ballot totals. To be certain, these are legitimate concerns in the U.S., not least because in many ways it is different from Ireland, but even so the Irish experience shows that it is not a foregone conclusion that the adoption of RCV will in and of itself lead inevitably to an scenario in which such concerns become a reality.


posted by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera : 06/11/2018 16:32 | permanent link