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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An electoral travesty

Whilst the report into the Scottish election shambles was bound to be damning, it is quite refreshing that it has also turned out to be very frank and honest as well. According to this mornings Times' newspaper, Labour ministers on both sides of the border treated voters as an “afterthought”, preferring to concentrate on “partisan political interests”:

The report says: “What is characteristic was a notable level of party self-interest evident in ministerial decision-making (especially in regard to the timing and method of counts and the design of ballot papers).

“In considering the circumstances surrounding the planning, organising and implementation of the elections, the voter was treated as an afterthought by virtually all the other stakeholders.

“Voters were overlooked as the most important stakeholders to be considered at every stage of the election.”

In total 146,000 ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament elections and 38,532 papers for the local council elections, held on the same day, had to be rejected because they had not been properly marked.

Voters were asked to use a new design of voting paper for the Parliament election and a new method of voting, the single transferrable vote, in the council elections - both of which were also counted electronically for the first time in Scotland. Such was the scale of the resultant chaos, that in some constituencies the number of spoilt ballot papers outnumbered the winning candidate’s majority and the overall result of the election, won by the Scottish National Party, was not known until 20 hours after polling stations closed.

Scotland Secretary, Douglas Alexander held ultimate responsibility for the decision to put both the first-past-the-post vote and the proportional representation vote on the same ballot paper instead of two separate papers.

However, the report makes clear that one of his main mistakes was to consult too widely and for too long on the ballot paper design.

“Months of partisan political discussion were wasted that could have been used to establish a ballot paper that voters would find easy to understand,” says the inquiry report.

The Labour-led Scottish Executive of the time was responsible for the decision to hold both parliamentary and council elections on the same day.

The report recommends splitting the Holyrood and local elections so that they are held on different dates and calls for the creation of a chief returning officer for Scotland.

It also argues that in future, the two sections of the Scottish Parliament election should be on different ballot sheets.

It is easy to judge after the event, though I have to admit that I privately questioned the decision to move Scotland's local Council elections to the same day as those for the Scottish Parliament at the time. However, this fiasco is just the latest in a long line of incidents in which politicians have interfered with election administration in an effort to 'modernise' it or to engineer higher turnouts. In each case they have succeeded only in reducing the security of the process, whilst turnout has remained largely unmoved.

Another example of "History according to Peter". If you remember Lib Dems were part of the Scotish Executive and are clearly implicated in this calamity.

Your attempts to rewrite the events of May are now spreading to Scotland as well. Where will this end Peter? Is there any historic event which is safe from your meddling?
All I have done Tomos is to quote the report. I have not attempted any re-writing. You are right of course that the Scottish Lib Dems were part of the Executive and I disagree with their decision to move the timing of the local Council elections. I am not so sure however that the Scottish Executive had a role in the design of the ballot papers or the electronic voting pilot. That seems to have come from Westminster. As for rewriting history per se, it is a matter of perspective. We seem to disagree but I dont accuse you of re-writing history.
The ballot papers were the responsibility of Westminster - which is why the new administration in Scotland is pressing for that responsibility to be devolved to Holyrood.
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