Remote Voting – Oireachtas Library and Research Service

In Spring 2018 Colette commissioned the Library and Research Service to research remote/electronic voting for TDs/Senators. The report is below:

This report is subdivided into two sections. Firstly, it examines where the practice takes place, in any form. Secondly, it briefly examines the general research carried out as of now on this particular area.

Where the Practice Takes Place

Within the European Union

As of 2012, a research study carried out by the European Parliament Policy Unit found that in no EU member state does this process of “remote voting” take place under Standing Orders, as we would understand it. In a more recent study, in 2015, carried out by the Austrian Parliament, research was undertaken to examine whether and where this process of remote voting takes place. This research underlined that in the vast majority of cases, remote voting does not take place.

That said, more recently, the situations in Spain and the United Kingdom are of interest. In Spain, remote voting is available in limited and particular circumstances. Members can vote by ‘electronic procedure, with personal check’. In cases of incapacity – e.g.) pregnancy, maternity/paternity leave, serious illness and special cases considered justified, members can indeed vote remotely. The decision on this is made by the Bureau of the House of Deputies. The Bureau of the House may indeed authorise telematics or mobile voting by MPs. For more information on this process (extent to which procedure is used) contact Catherine Lynch of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service.

In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons decided on the 1st February 2018, to make proxy voting and ‘baby leave’ possible for MPs. It passed a resolution that “it would be to the benefit of the functioning of parliamentary democracy that MPs who have a baby or adopted a child should for a period of time be entitled to discharge their responsibilities to vote in this House by proxy.” The House of Commons Procedure Committee is now examining how to implement it and the deadline for submission to this Committee was on the 1st March 2018.

Outside the European Union

Outside the European Union, there are two notable cases wherein a limited form of Electronic (proxy) voting takes place – New Zealand and Australia. In the case of New Zealand, Standing Orders permit a ‘proxy vote and a ‘party vote’ in certain circumstances. It works as follows:

  • If following a ‘voice vote’, a further vote is called for – the vote is deemed automatically a ‘party vote’ unless the Speaker of the House considers it to be an issue of conscience;
  • The ‘party vote’ is cast by the party leader (or someone authorised to cast it) and a record of those MPs in the ‘party vote’ is taken;
  • MPs wishing to vote differently or abstain from their party’s position are free to do so, these votes are recorded separately;
  • The total number of votes cast for each party may only include those members present within the parliamentary premises together with any “properly authorised proxy voters” – proxy votes should not account for over 25% of the ‘party votes’ (two-thirds of the members must be voting in person);
  • Standing Order 152 (see attached) concerns how proxy voting operates, stating that a member may give authorisation for a proxy vote which is generally undertaken by the party leader or the senior whip (provided they are expressly authorised to do so by the member wishing to vote by proxy);
  • Finally, a proxy vote must be signed by the member

In the case of Australia – on the 13th February 2008, Australia’s House of Representatives adopted a Resolution permitting a member who is a nursing mother to vote by proxy, via the Chief Government Whip or Chief Opposition Whip. The proxy vote is to be treated as if the member in question were actually in the Chamber.

The Resolution also expressed the opinion that the special provisions should only be made available for this particular reason, and not extended to members who are unable to be in the Chamber to vote for other reasons.

More generally speaking, in 2011, the IPU surveyed 85 parliaments and found that in only 5.9% of them, there were arrangements made for proxy voting for MPs who were absent due to childcare responsibilities.

Family-friendly policy % Yes % No
Sittings aligned with school calendar (N = 82)3961
Special arrangements for breastfeeding mothers* (N = 83)27.768.7
Longer stays in districts (n=65)23.176.9
Night sittings discontinued* (n=65)21.777.1
Childcare facilities provided in parliament (n=86)20.977.9
Flexible working hours (n=75)18.781.3
Travel allowances for family members provided for commuting between district and parliament* (n=81)

 

1682.7
Financial assistance to parliamentarians for childcare* (n=82)8.590.2
Family room (n=81)*6.291.4
Proxy voting for parliamentarians who are absent because of childcare responsibilities*5.992.9

Source: Questionnaire A, www.gender-parliaments.org

Note: *Figures do not total 100 because some countries said the measures had been “adopted, but not yet implemented”

The above table underlines previous points, that there is a general lack of accommodation of the need to balance professional life (as in the case of parliamentarians) and the responsibilities of childcare. While the fact that the above percentages do not add up to 100% is somewhat hopeful (based on the ongoing proposing and implementation of childcare-friendly procedures), this is simply not occurring at a significant rate.

General research on the impact it would/could have on the lives of MPs

Regardless of workplace, general research on gender equality finds general barriers to women’s participation – associated with their need to balance family (childcare) and professional commitments.

Chapter 9 of the above IPU report highlights barriers to women’s participation presented by culture and infrastructure of the parliament as a workplace. One of the most critical barriers identified in the IPU report is women’s self-perceived need to balance work and family life. It takes working hours, and mechanisms (such as proxy voting – see above), which can help to overcome these barriers.

Furthermore, a report by Professor Sarah Childs of University of Bristol (commissioned by the UK House of Commons, makes 43 recommendations on how the House of Commons can move to meet the IPU’s gender sensitive parliament’s framework. The ‘Good Parliament’ (July 2016) recommendations include (among others):

  • That the House of Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion should produce a House Statement on maternity, paternity, parental adoption and caring leave. All parties represented in the Commons would be expected to sign up to this
  • She suggested three approaches to voting whilst MPs were on maternity, paternity, parental, adoption and caring leave, that for the period of leave, the MP might choose to:
  1. Vote remotely (i.e. off/outside of the Parliamentary Estate).
  2. Appoint a proxy from amongst fellow party MPs to vote, and to otherwise act for them in respect of tabling questions, amendments, etc. in Parliament.
  3. Be formally and transparently ‘paired’ so that any absence from Parliament does not affect the balance of party representation in divisions.