The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, or RTE, as well as via the statistical record for elections - Elections Ireland.
Why watch what how a tiny (less than 4 million people) European nation votes? Because it will show students that the way things work in "their" nation is not inevitable - it is the result of choices, and definitions.
Ireland does not have "First Past The Post" (FPTP) voting. That's what elections in the United States, Canada, and national elections in the United Kingdom are. The candidate with the most votes wins. Which is why an American student, asked to define "democracy," will often say, "majority rule."
Of course, with a few exceptions, like Louisiana, "majority rule" in the US, Canada, or the UK, is "plurality rule." Candidates need not get a majority of votes to win. Thus, Canada is ruled by a right-wing government chosen by 37.65% of the voters in competition with four leftist parties, and the United Kingdom is led by a Prime Minister backed by 36.1% of the voters. France utilizes a "second round" of voting - the top two candidates in the first round meet unless someone has won a majority.
Now, an Irish student might not define "democracy" as "majority rules." In fact, they might say that democracy is protection of the minority - an important concept in Ireland.
Irish elections operate under a system called "Single Transferable Vote/Multi-Member Constituencies," and are, by design, protective of minority opinion. Each legislative district choices 3 to 5 members of the Dail. Each party may run several candidates within that district. And voters rank the candidates in order of preference on the ballot.
|The ballot to elect five "TDs" - Members of the national legislature - from Wicklow in 2002 (Trinity College)|
|2007 Results, Wicklow Constituency|
The result has been many, many coalition governments over the years, with it increasingly difficult for one party to achieve a majority. These coalitions might tilt left or right, but tend to be less extreme in philosophy than a single party might be - like, say - US Congressional Republicans. That might either leave Ireland stable or slow-to-react, depending on your view.
(Coalition and collaboration often have a bad connotation in the United States, but I like to point out that the French Fourth Republic, much maligned for the instability of its left-center coalitions, rebuilt the nation's transport and university systems after World War II, introduced universal health care, and created the European peace we know today.)
In your class...
This is a chance to compare, contrast, debate, wonder. What might your national government look like if chosen by the Irish system? Perhaps you could combine the five Congressional or Parliamentary districts/constituencies/ridings around your school and see what the total votes in the last election might indicate. Perhaps you could hold an election in your school using this system. Perhaps hold two votes for the same positions, one "the American way" and one "the Irish way" and see how the results differ.
Challenge your students to consider how changing voting systems might change democracy. Might change a nation and a society. After all, just because we have very old voting systems, need not suggest that we don't have choices (the UK will get a choice this year).
And then, follow the math (now we're interdisciplinary), watch the results flow at Elections Ireland, follow the math from Wikipedia. The Irish electoral count is slow and complicated, but that's OK, we don't all need results on Election night as CNN insists.
- Ira Socol