The Irish Times surveyed the 23 women Dáil members on the question whether political parties should be required to adopt gender quotas in their candidate selection process. [Note 1] About 14% of the wholly-elected legislature, the Dáil, are women.
If approximate gender equality in the legislature would lead to a better outcome than that at present, how could this be achieved?
The commission which broached this subject envisioned legislation. But is that necessary?
Election to the Dáil takes place in multi-member constituencies, of three, four or five members. To be elected a candidate must achieve that number—also called a quota—equal to the number of votes cast (plus 1) divided by the number which is one more than the number of seats to be filled. Voters rank the candidates; when one who is elected has votes greater than the quota, the number in excess is distributed among the voters next choices; similarly, when candidates with the least votes are crossed off their second and further choices may be redistributed. [Note 2]
A very different approach would dispense altogether with need for any change in the existing electoral law. Whether it would have the effect of approximate gender equality would depend on the depth of the electorates persuasion that the result is worth having. Call this Voters Choice.
Advocates of gender equality would put this proposition to all of the political parties. In every constituency, run both a man and a woman, or two men and two women, &c. If you do not do so, we will boycott all of your candidates in that constituency.
What effect would this have on the outcome? Because of the unusual PR-STV voting system, additional candidates of the same party do not dilute that partys position as competitor against other parties, provided voters allocate their second and third choices to the same party. They might not, but even as practice now stands they are free to allocate second and third and further choices to other-party candidates.
It could increase campaign costs, but it would also mean two (or more) candidates would be stumping, with the possibility of winning seats at other parties expense.
It would not guarantee approximate gender equality in the Dáil, but it could achieve that equality in the processes of candidate selection and election.
Note that this presents the parties with a fait accompli to which they must respond. Moreover, as no legislation would be required, no change in the electoral law, to the extent incumbents would act to preserve their advantage by delaying or watering-down any legislative moves they will find they have been ignored.
An initiative on these lines could prompt a party, especially one in search of some distinguishing move, to take the lead and declare that it would adopt the Voters Choice as party policy. Whatever the uncertainties about effects on the electoral outcome might be, other parties would have to consider whether they would lose seats if they failed to join. Is there a bandwagon, and do we want to be on it? I wonder how Labour and the Greens would respond, if not already declared.
Is it really true, as the second approach outlined above claims, that Voters Choice would work?
 A simple explanation of the systems intricacies is posted by the Irish government at http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,1895,en.pdf See also Irelands PR-STV Electoral System: A Need for Reform?, http://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/staff/michael_gallagher/IrishElectSys.php
[Political Design 2010.08.04. Post A22. Front Door: http://www.learnworld.com/DESIGN/ Permalink: http://www.learnworld.com/DESIGN/uncategorized/❄-gender-quota-for-the-dail/]