50 years since fair votes’ defence in Ireland

Lizzie Lawless, Membership and Digital Officer

Posted on the 15th October 2018

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a major event in the Society’s history and the history of the campaign for fair votes.

On 16 October 1968, Ireland held a referendum that would determine the very nature of its democracy. Envious of the power that its Westminster counterparts could wield, the Fianna Fáil government called a referendum which tried to move Ireland away from the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and revert back to Westminster’s electoral system.

Ireland has had proportional representation since 1922. The adoption of STV was closely linked with the birth of the Irish state and the need to allow for the representation of different and minority interests. The use of STV was entrenched in the Irish Constitution, ratified by the people on 1 July 1937.

The referendum in 1968 was not the first attempt by Fianna Fáil to overthrow the proportional system in Ireland. A referendum on the exact same issue had been defeated less than 10 years earlier.

Determined to protect the rights of Irish voters for a second time, the Electoral Reform Society – with Director Enid Lakeman at the forefront – went over to Ireland and campaigned tirelessly to defend Ireland’s system of proportional representation.

Alongside fellow campaigners in Ireland, Enid Lakeman helped lead the ERS’s campaign which contributed to securing victory – this time delivering an even larger majority (61%) for fair votes – and ensured that power was kept safe in the hands of the public.

Just like in New Zealand, when voters have experienced what it is like to have their votes matter, they back it in even greater numbers.

As we experience today, Westminster’s voting system delivers results that are not reflective of how people vote, and leads to millions of voices being effectively ignored.

However, when you introduce fair votes – voters win. With a fair proportional system, every vote makes a difference, and parties can no longer dominate for decades without real challenge. What’s more, the number of seats actually reflect how people vote.

Fifty years on, it is important to highlight this significant success of the ERS campaigners, and particularly of the tireless work of Enid Lakeman. Her research in highlighting the importance of fair votes and her determined activism were key to the strength of the campaign to protect Ireland’s voting system.

Reflecting on this anniversary, it is clear that fair votes were able to stand the test of time in Ireland. As the electorate confirmed twice, once voters have experienced a fair voting system, they do not wish to go back.

The Lakeman Fellowship

At the Electoral Reform Society, we have a lot to owe to Enid Lakeman.

As Enid’s work demonstrates, having excellent research makes all the difference for a strong campaign. She worked tirelessly for democratic reform across the UK, and it’s very important we continue to carry on her legacy.

By introducing the Lakeman Fellowship, we hope to create an even stronger case for political reform in the UK. This new Fellowship will allow us to increase our capacity for exciting new research at the Society and ensure that we can build a stronger than ever case for fair votes and reform.

With your help we can make this possible – together, we can build an unstoppable case for reform.

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