Postal voting assurances sought ahead of Holyrood election

The Scottish Government believes as many as 40% of Scots may choose to mail in their ballot.

Postal voting assurances sought ahead of Holyrood election Getty Images

MSPs are seeking assurances that ministers will make “sufficient resources” available to cope with the expected increase in demand for postal voting in next year’s Holyrood election.

The Scottish Government believes as many as 40% of Scots may choose to mail in their ballot as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – more than double the number of people who usually vote in this way.

Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee said contingency measures should be put in place in case demand for postal votes exceeds this.

Committee convener Bill Kidd said: “Our committee’s first priority is to ensure that no voter is unable to vote.

“Whilst there is no doubt that next year’s election will be unlike any other, it is vital that there are the resources and support in place to deal with the increased demand on postal votes.”

The Scottish Government has already brought forward legislation to deal with the impact Covid-19 could have on the election, which is due to take place in May 2021.

Proposals set out in the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill could mean the ballot takes place over more than one day or is postponed until later.

In a new report on the Bill, MSPs on the committee said they are “not comfortable” for ministers alone to decide if the election should take place over more than one day, saying “parliamentary scrutiny of such a move is desirable”.

MSPs added they are “reassurance from the Government that sufficient resources are made available so that it is possible to meet the demand for postal votes”.

They said the “changing position with coronavirus makes it hard to estimate the final take-up of postal voting”.

The committee report states: “The Scottish Government must ensure that additional financial resource is available to ensure that people can be trained to support the process of registering postal votes and to allow for widespread public information campaigns on postal voting.”

Kidd said: “We want to see a clear plan of education and encouragement with regards to postal voting.

“But more than this, the process must be simplified.

“This cannot become a barrier to anyone casting their ballot at next year’s election.”

Deputy convener Patrick Harvie said: “Confidence in our election process is vital and the Bill sets out clear contingency plans to allow next year’s elections to take place.

“But the measures in the Bill give broad powers to Scottish Government ministers.

“For a Bill which will sit at the heart of how our democracy functions, there must be parliamentary scrutiny on key decisions such as extending the ballot over multiple days.

“These decisions must not be taken by ministers alone and must be subject to scrutiny.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill, developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and other political parties, includes measures to help ensure polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote safely in person in May as planned.

“The Bill contains contingency measures to ensure virus conditions can be taken into account in ensuring the safe delivery of the election.

“We are grateful to the committee for its report and will consider its recommendations carefully. The Government is working with Electoral Registration Officers to ensure they have sufficient resources to process the expected increase in postal voting.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code