Yesterday at 11am, the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht launched their report on the Electoral Commission.
In 2008, academics from UCD, in association with the Department, conducted a study into the current voting system, and introduced the idea. The model proposed is heavily based on the UK and Australian models.
A Consultation Paper on the establishment of the body was published last year, 27 January 2015, which set about the process of introducing the Electoral Commission Bill. This Bill would provide for the establishment of an independent body that would take on duties which are currently dealt with by various government departments, statutory agencies and parts of the Oireachtas. Ireland, as noted in the Paper, is in the minority by not having a Commission. According to the Paper, two-thirds of jurisdictions have such a body.
This would comprise the biggest overhaul of the voting system since the establishment of the State nearly 100 years ago. On the announcement of the Consultation Paper, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly TD, said:
“Setting up an Electoral Commission gives us the opportunity of putting in place administrative and governance arrangements that most appropriately suit the particular features of Ireland’s electoral system.”
However, he also commented that bringing this body to actualisation would take “a number of years”.i
The Report launched yesterday aims to answer some questions that followed the publication of the Consultation Paper. In the main, it looks at “the policy and operational issues that would arise from the establishment of an Electoral Commission”. It does this by focusing on five main areas:
- The Policy rationale for an Electoral Commission;
- Functions which should be assigned to an Electoral Commission;
- Independence, membership and accountability mechanisms;
- Establishment process; and
The Policy rationale for an Electoral Commission
Some areas were identified in the consultation process as needing urgent attention. Submissions commonly references the following, in terms of things that needed overhaul:
- reform of the electoral registration process;
- voter education;
- turnout and the minimal efforts made to encourage people to register and to vote;
- the absence of centralised election results and data; and
- political finance – primarily the lack of transparency in the accounts of political parties and tight resources which present obstacles to the enforcement of the rules around donations and spending regulations
As the Report noted, “there is no one actor responsible for devising and pioneering a reform agenda in the sensitive area of electoral policy.” Therefore, this serves as the policy basis for the establishment of an Electoral Commission.
Functions which should be assigned to an Electoral Commission
The following functions will be taken over by the Commission:
- The Register of political parties;
- The operational and policy role of the Franchise Section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, understanding that the Department would continue to play a role in supporting the Minister and in developing legislation; the Electoral Commission’s policy role would expand and deepen the policy advice available to the Government on electoral issues;
- The regulation of political funding and election expenditure currently carried out by Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) at the national level and by local authorities at a local level; and
- The functions of the Referendum Commission.
Independence, membership and accountability mechanisms
The submissions maintained that the Electoral Commission should be an independent body, un-swayed by political motivations, but should still be held accountable to the Dáil. This would require them to present a yearly report to Dáil Éireann. Also, “The legislation should include a five-year post-legislative scrutiny or sunset clause and be drafted in accordance with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s (2014) report on the implementation of the Agency Rationalisation Programme”.
In terms of who would make up the members, “Impartiality and expertise in the area of electoral management were the criteria for membership most frequently identified by