Friday, July 13, 2007

In the absence of conflict people talk about process

I find it curious that in a large field that so many of the candidates talk about the state of the register as if that was the be all and end all of why they decided to run. As if they had no policies or other issues that they had wanted to talk about.

Those of us in the race, and the sadder (note you're just more sad than we are) anoraks not involved in any campaigns yet who are actually paying attention, know that it is just not true. Quite a few of the candidates have sincerely held and interesting topics that they wanted to raise. Yet why are most of the articles in the press about the process?

Part of the problem is that this paucity of opportunity for real debate amongst the candidates actually leads to the lack of interest on the part of the public. After all a candidate can talk and talk all they want but it is the contest of a debate that really engages the public. Or put more simply people will stop to watch a fight. If only the was some media outlet that was willing to take a punt on this.

Yet it looks likely that the last week will see yet more focus on the process and in particular the register. The presence of dead people on the NUI register is a comparatively straightforward problem to resolve. People have to be registered as dead (not by themselves naturally) and surely this can be electronically conveyed to those compiling the various registers on a regular enough basis. Of course if Bob Romson has moved house and then dead without telling anyone then it is not necessary going to be that easy to remove him from the register.

A single register compiled by the electoral commission via data returned from the local authorities would seem to be the simplest way to go. All and any changes to this register should be done using the norms of source control common in the software industry whereby comments are entered for all changes and a track kept of who made the changes. Now you there - stop laughing at the back - this is what should be the norm in the software industry yet as we all know often the comments are "bug fixed", it isn't that hard to tell those entering the changes that if the reasons included in their comments to justify the change can't be substantiated that they will be fired for not doing their job. That might increase compliance.

For those living in Ireland it shouldn't be that hard to have a box on the regular general election registration form to allow someone to indicate that they are NUI graduates and thereafter for the NUI to seek proof of this. In essence we simply merge the registers.

It is deeply ironic that someone who is a member of the main party in government for the last ten years and is their candidate for one of the panels is complaining about dead people being on the register when the normal general election register can't ensure that dead people are removed in a timely fashion.

Why is Sean O'Connor a hue and cry about this? Because he knows the press want to write about the process in order to regurgitate their articles from the last election talking about what a waste the Seanad is. In order to distract from the more substantive issues that might otherwise have gotten an airing during the course of the campaign. There is less than a week left and you bet the only stories you will see will be about the register and who has appeared on what website.

Since that it all the press willing to report then I'm going to join them briefly. Isn't registered post is an odd way to distribute ballots papers for these in employment? Though the suggrstion again from Sean O'Connor that we use SMS for voting and couriers for delivering the paper ballots makes me wonder if he knows that couriers cost more than An Post and they too require you to be home to sign for your package.

The old system was probably fine as a system of sending out the ballots back when most graduates were menfolk who worked 9-5 while the woman of the house worked at home and the postman (and it was a man) was happy enough to let her sign for the ballot. These days most graduates male and female are working long enough hours that the postal system could have replaced the postman with a post cougar and it would decades before any of them noticed, Many post offices do not open at weekends to allow people to collect their registered post. In fact it might be considered a minor miracle that the turnout is as high as it is. Given that anyone can sign the validation slip won't it make it easier if the ballots were just sent in regular post and then you had to drop in somewhere with ID over the course of the 4/5 weeks like a post office or Garda station to cast the ballot and then drop it into the post?

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