So Ireland is having yet another vote, this time — of all things — to elect its government. As international readers might be aware, for this type of election, Ireland uses a voting system called proportional representation with a single transferable vote (PR-STV).
Your job as a voter is to indicate your chosen candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper: you write a ‘1’ next to your favourite candidate, a ‘2’ next to your second favourite, a ‘3’ next to your third favourite, and so on. You can vote for some of them, just one of them — or you can just keep going and vote for them all, so long as you give them consecutive numbers in order of your preference.
But what if there is a candidate (or candidates) that you really DON’T want to see elected? How do you vote AGAINST people in this type of system? Well, there is only one thing you should do in this situation: give votes to EVERYBODY ELSE BUT THEM. In other words, leave their boxes blank.
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Which brings me on to the racists. Recently, Ireland — in common with other countries around the world — has seen itself convulsed by a series of controversies relating to racist rhetoric from lazy-minded, dog-whistling, going-nowhere-otherwise politicians. You know the type. Has-beens, in the main. Uncouth and selfish, callous and cruel-minded, graceless desperados with poor grasps of the facts and no discernible talent.
After all, if you’re a washed up political throwback with nothing going for you, why not resort to a bit of aul’ racism? Fascism for the craic. Ireland for the Irish. Bleurgh.
As those of you who remember #Oughterard will know, one of these guys is running in my own constituency of Galway West. He already is a TD, so the task now is to unseat him. Judging by recent opinion polls, it seems that I might not be alone in this ambition.
In all there are 15 candidates running for election in Galway West, of whom I reckon three in total have a case to answer when it comes to the aul’ racism. So I will be voting for the other 12. I will give every single one of them a number, but leave the final three boxes blank. I urge you to do the same.
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Here’s why it is important. You see, people like this are never truly popular, but they can end up accumulating votes by transfers. In other words, they never get many ‘1’s, but they end up benefiting from the ‘2’s, ‘3’s, and ‘4’s — and perhaps even the ‘9’s, ’10’s, and ’11’s — that they receive from other voters.
Some voters will give out these numbers because of sympathy for a candidate who lives near their town. Or maybe they will give a number to a politician because they have seen them on television and think they’re funny. These are legitimate (if very weak) reasons to vote for someone, so if that is your thing, go ahead.
However, sometimes voters will give these numbers to candidates in the false belief that it will somehow disadvantage them. They believe it will “shove them down” the pecking order. BUT THIS IS NOT THE CASE! The only thing that will disadvantage them is a blank box. All numbers, even high ones, could end up working to their advantage, SO DON’T DO IT!
Blank-box these guys instead. That’s what hurts them, more than anything.
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Take the infamous Noel Grealish, who has been elected to the Dáil in four previous elections. This was despite several attributes that you might think would be electoral drawbacks. For example, he was once affiliated with a tiny right-wing party whose policies in government drove the country into recession. And then there are his attitudes to women’s reproductive rights, which place him firmly at the extremist fringe of Ireland’s cultural mainstream.
Famous too are his views about “Africans.” Grealish doesn’t want “Africans” coming to Ireland “to sponge off the system” because “we don’t know these people that’s coming in” (although we do know that they are “not persecuted Christians,” a fact that gives him further heebie-jeebies).
He is super-suspicious of Nigerians in particular, because they seem to have more money than they should have, which in his mind must indicate “crime or fraud” (and not statistical error, which was the explanation issued by the Central Statistics Office).
And for older readers, let’s not forget his views on other ethnic minorities — such as his call for the law to be changed to allow publicans to eject members of the Traveller Community from their premises, on the basis, simply, of being Travellers.
And yet he keeps getting re-elected. How does he do it? The answer is simple. Transfers.
At the last election, in 2016, Grealish attracted a mere 7,187 number ‘1’s from the voters of Galway West. At the time, there were 103,704 voters on the electoral register. This means that Grealish was the preferred candidate of just 6.9% of his constituents.
Turnout was a factor too, but it is nonetheless sobering to consider that the guy was elected with just 7,000 number ‘1’ votes. The rest of his tally — the votes that got him elected to the national parliament — were all transfers. Without transfers he would have finished well down the field.
Grealish has been sitting in the Dáil for eighteen years, repeatedly being elected in a similar fashion. In 2002, he received just 2,735 first-preferences. In return for that, he got to help select the Taoiseach and be part of the new Coalition Government for the next four years.
Please can we make it stop?
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Okay, take-home lesson time.
Don’t assume that if someone is a TD, it means they have widespread support in their constituency. And don’t assume that simply not voting for racists is a way to stop them getting elected.
No. To prevent racists getting elected, it isn’t enough just to ignore them. Turning the other way won’t wash. You need to vote for all the other candidates, no matter how uncomfortable that might make you feel.
Give the rest a number…but blank-box the bigots.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.