Next year’s Scottish Parliament election could be delayed or voting carried out over more than one day under planned new laws.
A number of measures have been drafted to make sure the poll can take place during the pandemic.
The poll is expected to go ahead as planned on May 6, but the bill would provide the presiding officer with powers to postpone the election by up to six months in certain circumstances.
Voters could also get more than the usual single day to cast their ballots to ensure social distancing can take place at polling stations.
The legislation, which will go before the parliament, also includes an option for the poll to be conducted as an all-postal ballot if necessary.
Some of the key measures in the Bill include:
- Earlier deadline for postal vote applications of April 6, rather than April 20, to give more time for these to be processed
- Power for ministers to allow polling to take place over more than one day, if needed, to support physical distancing at polling stations.
- Dissolution of parliament moved to May 5 rather than March 25 to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation to delay the election if required.
Minister for parliamentary business Graeme Dey said: “We fully expect the Scottish Parliament election to go ahead as planned in May, but it is prudent and responsible to ensure we have planned for every eventuality so that the poll can be conducted safely and fairly during this pandemic.
“This Bill includes measures to help ensure that polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote safely in person in May as planned.
“The proposed legislation, which will be scrutinised by parliament, also properly prepares for contingencies in the highly unlikely event that this is not possible due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Importantly, should there be a need to defer the election because of Covid-19 during the pre-election period, the measures to delay dissolution will allow MSPs to return to parliament to take a vote on any such proposal through emergency legislation.”