Recently, Trinity College Dublin Seanad Office took the interesting step of eliminating a candidate from the election for Seanad on the basis that the candidate discovered she was not a citizen of Ireland. That’s not in itself problematic. Ballot papers had already been drawn up and released to the electorate, and many of these ballots had been cast and returned in the all-postal ballot. Quite apart from the obvious issues this throws up in the process for verifying candidates for an election, the actions of the Office in interpreting the law around the election subsequently should provide much room for disquiet, at least on the clear violation of natural justice and the disenfranchisement of what I assume will be a significant portion of the electorate.

The Seanad Offfice has interpreted the law to mean that in the case of a ballot showing a first preference for Karin Dubsky, the entire ballot paper will be invalid, including any subsequent preferences expressed therein.

Here’s the law:

Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937

But here’s the premise for the decision: S22(2) & (3):

(2) An elector in giving his vote at an election in a university constituency must place on his ballot paper the figure 1 opposite the name of the candidate for whom he votes and may in addition place on his ballot paper the figures 2 and 3, or 2, 3, and 4, and so on opposite the names of other candidates in the order of his preference.

(3) Any ballot paper—

(a) which does not bear the official mark, or

(b) on which the figure 1 standing alone is not placed at all or is not so placed as to indicate a first preference for some candidate, or

(c) on which the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference is set opposite the name of more than one candidate, or

(d) on which the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference and some other number is set opposite the name of the same candidate, or

(e) on which anything except the number on the back is written or marked by which the voter can be identified,

shall be invalid and not counted.

They have also ruled that in cases where there is a second or subsequent preference cast for Ms Dubsky, the ballot paper will not be invalid. They seem to base this on the fact that only first preference votes are considered in the legislation.

This is clearly, in terms non-psephologists will understand, a clusterfuck. For reasons outwith the control of electors, their entire vote is struck out due to an error committed by Trinity Seanad Panel in not ensuring the candidate was eligible for election. I think this is a dreadful and high-handed misapplication of the law.

It is clear that the point of this legislation is to ensure that a ballot is cast correctly. It cannot possibly have been created to eliminate ballot papers cast in good faith by people for a candidate who was still to the best of the electorate’s knowledge a valid candidate. The ruling is nonsense and really must be challenged.

First of all, why does the withdrawal of a candidate wipe out all preferences on the paper? Would it not be more sensible to treat first preferences for Ms Dubsky as non-extant and the next preference expressed as the first? One could argue that in cases where someone votes for the candidate with the lowest first preference total, this is essentially what happens- the vote for the first eliminated candidate really becomes useful only in subsequent rounds.

Second, what procedure did Trinity Seanad Office use to establish candidates’ eligibility for candidacy? Whatever system the office used, it failed and now undermines the legitimacy of the election, the moreso if it happens that a significant number of people voted for Ms Dubsky. The electorate, quite rightly, expects that when a candidate appears on a ballot paper, the candidate meets the criteria for election, and they expect that their vote will be counted come what may.

Third, this being such a clusterfuck, what is government saying about it?