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Scotland's Future: Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper

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2 Mechanics of the Referendum

Chapter Summary

  • The rules proposed for the conduct of the poll are based on those applying to the conduct of elections to the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament and local authorities.
  • The referendum will be a traditional ballot-box poll held on a single day at polling stations across the country. Voters will also have the option to vote by post or proxy. The votes will be counted by hand.
  • Eligibility to vote will follow the precedent of the 1997 referendum in being based on who can vote at Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections. However, the draft Bill provides that those aged 16 or 17 on the electoral register on the date of the referendum will also be entitled to vote.

Conduct of the Poll and Count

2.1. The draft Bill establishes the office of the Chief Counting Officer ( CCO), who will be responsible for the proper and effective conduct of the referendum. The CCO will be responsible for the running of the poll, the count and the declaration of the result.

2.2. The CCO role is one which has been established at previous referendums in the UK. The role will be similar to the CCO role in the 1997 devolution referendum in Scotland and the 2004 Regional Assembly and Local Government referendum held in 2004 in the North East of England.

2.3. The CCO will be an officer independent of Government, who has the necessary experience and expertise in running national votes. The draft Bill provides that the CCO will be appointed by the Scottish Ministers and must be an existing or former returning officer for elections in Scotland. The CCO will appoint a Counting Officer ( CO) for each local authority area.

2.4. The draft Bill provides that there should be a national declaration of the result before any declaration of local results. In the 1997 referendum, a declaration was made of the result in each local authority area as that result became available. By the time the last results came through the overall national result was already decided and there was little coverage or interest in the results from the areas where the counting of votes took a little longer. The Scottish Government believes that as this is a national referendum there should be a declaration of a national result taking account of the votes cast in every part of Scotland. The results for individual local authorities would be available immediately following that national declaration.

Costs

2.5. The total cost of conducting the referendum is likely to be around £9.5 million, the bulk of which will be spent on running the poll and the count. Proportionately this is comparable to the estimated cost of as much as £120 million for the Alternative Vote referendum proposed by the UK Government for the whole of the UK.

Eligibility to Vote

2.6. Following the precedent of the 1997 referendum, eligibility to vote will be based on that for Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections. That means that those resident in Scotland will be eligible to vote (with the exception of citizens of non-Commonwealth and non- EU countries). This is in line with the internationally accepted principle that the franchise for constitutional referendums should be determined by residency, and with the Scottish Government's view that sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland.

2.7. The only departure from the practice in the 1997 referendum is that the draft Bill extends the vote to those aged 16 or 17, as long as they are eligible to be registered on the electoral register.

The Local Government and Scottish Parliamentary Franchise

2.8. The franchises for local government and Scottish Parliamentary ( LG & SP), Westminster Parliamentary ( WP) and European Parliamentary ( EP) elections are different, as set out in Table 1.

Table 1: Franchise for elections in the UK

Local Government & Scottish Parliamentary franchise

Westminster Parliamentary franchise

European Parliamentary franchise

All British citizens resident in Scotland

All British citizens resident in Scotland

All British citizens resident in Scotland

Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland

Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland

Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland

Republic of Ireland citizens resident in Scotland

Republic of Ireland citizens resident in Scotland

Republic of Ireland citizens resident in Scotland

Citizens of other EU countries resident in Scotland

Citizens of other EU countries resident in Scotland

British nationals now living overseas who have previously been registered to vote in a Scottish constituency in the last 15 years

British nationals now living overseas who have previously been registered to vote in a Scottish constituency in the last 15 years

Members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland

Members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland

2.9. The main differences between the LG & SP and WP franchises are that the LG & SP franchise does not include former residents of Scotland now living overseas, but does include all EU citizens residing in Scotland (who cannot vote in WP elections). None of the franchises allows citizens of non- EU and non-Commonwealth countries to vote. Former residents of Scotland now living in the rest of the UK are not included in the LG & SP franchise, or any other franchise used in Scotland. The LG & SP franchise most closely reflects residency in Scotland and has been chosen for that reason.

2.10. The following groups of people will therefore be entitled to vote in the referendum:

  • British citizens resident in Scotland;
  • Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland;
  • Republic of Ireland citizens resident in Scotland;
  • citizens of other EU countries resident in Scotland;
  • members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland; and
  • Service/Crown personnel serving in the UK or overseas in the armed forces or with Her Majesty's Government who are registered to vote in Scotland.

16 and 17 Year-olds

2.11. The Scottish Government's view is that the voting age should be reduced to 16 for all elections. Denying 16 and 17 year-olds the vote risks them becoming disengaged from the political process at the very point society expects them to take on rights and responsibilities such as getting married or serving in the armed forces. Reducing the voting age to 16 would encourage participation by young people in Scotland's democratic processes and will give them a voice on matters that affect them.

2.12. The principle of lowering the voting age enjoys wide support. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party support lowering the voting age, as do all of the major youth organisations in the UK15. Other countries are also starting to consider this issue. For example, in 2007, Austria became the first member of the European Union to adopt a voting age of 16 for all purposes, and Germany and Switzerland have lowered the voting age in certain elections. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man also have a voting age of 16.

2.13. The Health Boards (Membership and Elections) (Scotland) Act 2009 was the first piece of Scottish legislation to allow for those aged 16 or over to vote in elections. The pilot Health Board elections are due to take place in Fife and Dumfries and Galloway on 10 June 2010. The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Green Party all supported these proposals when they were put before the Scottish Parliament.

2.14. For the referendum, the Scottish Government is constrained by the fact that the franchise for elections is reserved to Westminster and that the systems for establishing and maintaining the electoral register are subject to Westminster legislation. That system currently allows 16 and 17 year-olds to apply to be on the electoral register if they will become 18 within 12 months of the period beginning with the 1 December after their application. The draft Bill therefore provides for the extension of the vote to those 16 and 17 year-olds who are eligible to be registered under the existing UK legislation.

Equalities

2.15. The draft Bill is designed to ensure equality of opportunity for people in having their say on the constitutional future of Scotland. In particular, it places responsibilities on the CCO and COs to make provisions so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to take part. These provisions follow existing legislation and practice for elections.

2.16. The draft Bill includes the following provisions to help people with disabilities to vote:

  • if a voter applies to vote with the assistance of someone else on the grounds of blindness, other physical disability or an inability to read, the presiding officer of the polling station must approve the application if he is satisfied that the voter and the companion meet the terms of the legislation;
  • polling stations are to be accessible to all, in line with other elections. This issue will be covered in further detail by guidance issued by the Scottish Referendum Commission;
  • postal voters must be given information about how to obtain guidance for voters in Braille, pictorial format, audible format or in other formats;
  • each polling station must have a sample copy of the ballot paper in large text for voters who are partially sighted, and a 'tactile voting device' for enabling voters who are blind or partially sighted to enable them to vote without the need for assistance; and
  • an enlarged sample copy of the ballot paper must be displayed at every polling station and a translation of the ballot paper into other languages as appropriate.

2.17. In addition, there is a requirement in the draft Bill for the CO to issue to postal voters information about how to obtain translations (into languages other than English) of any directions or guidance for voters sent with the ballot paper.

QUESTION 5

What are your views on the proposals for how the poll is conducted and on eligibility to vote?