Much ink has been spilled on the issue of setting up an independent Electoral Commission to oversee the management of elections and referenda here. Successive governments over the years have been effective at talking about it, but only the current administration is going to make it a reality. While our electoral system and the easy accessibility of politicians mean that citizens are deeply engaged with the electoral process, this isn’t necessarily matched by a sense of public confidence that the current system works. Various controversies over the years have highlighted a level of political interference in our electoral system and have only added to the further erosion of that confidence. For example, the botched €50 million e-voting machine debacle was due in no small way to the Minister of the day going on a solo run.
An independent Electoral Commission – the first steps for which were unveiled by Labour’s Environment Minister Alan Kelly yesterday – will remove decisions in respect of the electoral process from the political sphere, and place them solely in the hands of an independent panel.
Making a singular body responsible for managing elections would also streamline the way they are conducted in Ireland, and end the situation whereby the Department of the Environment, local authorities, the Referendum Commission, Returning Officers and the Standards in Public Office Commission each have different roles to play.
This piecemeal approach simply isn’t fitting any longer for a modern Ireland where citizens legitimately expect a greater level of efficiency and accountability from their political and public institutions. Modern voter registration systems are features of advanced democracies, but in Ireland, where we have 34 different local authorities maintaining their own electoral register, it is natural that standards will vary between each.