This report presents an analysis of responses to a published Scottish Government consultation which gathered views about several possible electoral reforms in Scotland. The published consultation, consisting of 30 closed and 16 open questions, ran between 14 December 2022 and 15 March 2023. Of 517 responses received, 94% were from individuals, and 6% from organisations.
Candidates standing for election
Over three quarters (77%) disagreed with the proposals to extend candidacy rights, with higher disagreement among individuals. Organisations were more supportive, with two thirds (67%) in favour of permitting 16- and 17- year-olds to stand in both Scottish Parliament and local government elections, and 88% in favour of candidacy rights for foreign nationals with limited rights to remain.
There was considerable support for the proposal to sanction those found guilty of an offence involving the harassment or intimidation of politicians, candidates or campaigners - 77% of individuals and 89% of organisations were in favour. However, concerns were raised that sanctions might suppress freedom of speech, and the definition of harassment was queried.
Organisations supported sending freepost communications to candidates at Scottish Local Government elections, although only a third of individuals agreed. There was more consensus on the proposal to limit mailings to one per household, with 78% of individuals and 70% of organisations in favour. Financial considerations were raised, with suggestions that the candidate or party should pay associated costs.
The proposal to allow candidates acting as their own agent to use a correspondence address and ask for the ward's name and the council area in which they live to appear on the ballot paper received widespread agreement. This was seen as a way of enhancing security for candidates.
Aspects of the Voting Process
Just over two thirds of respondents shared views on ways to improve registration levels among under-represented groups. These included public awareness campaigns, information or voter registration stalls in schools or targeted outreach. Compulsory voting, improving the standing of politics, and removing barriers to voting, were also suggested. The second most common view was that existing arrangements were sufficient.
No change to the existing legislation for Tactile Voting Devices was felt necessary by over half of respondents, though only one of the 13 organisations who answered felt this way. Three in ten felt the existing rule should be replaced by a general requirement on Returning Officers to provide appropriate support; this equates to over two thirds of those who felt a change was required.
Across all elections in the UK a companion is allowed to attend a polling station to support up to two voters who need additional support to cast their vote. When asked if the number of individuals that can be supported by a companion should be changed, over three quarters (77%) of individuals felt there should be no change. Among organisations, however, views were more mixed, with one third (33%) supporting an increase to five people who can be supported, one quarter (25%) favouring the current guidelines and the remainder favouring a different number. Some of the free text comments also suggested reducing the limit to one voter per companion in order to minimise the risk of coercion.
While a majority of individuals were in favour of a digital poll card option – 55% in favour and 45% opposed – organisations were much more supportive. Almost all (89%) of the nine responses from organisations indicated this should be an option.
Themes emerged around the improving accessibility of polling stations, considering alternative voting options such as remote or digital methods, better promotion of accessibility features and the need for greater consultation. Others felt existing arrangements were sufficient.
There was widespread agreement (89% of respondents) that the offence of "undue influence" should be made easier to understand and enforce.
All organisations which responded to the question, and under two thirds of individuals, supported the proposal to extend the right to emergency proxies to the companions of anyone who has to attend an unexpected medical appointment or treatment that would prevent them from voting at their normal voting place.
One fifth of respondents commented on changes to proxy voting. Common themes included the potential for undue influence, disagreement with the use of proxy voting, agreement with limiting it, proxy voting as a way to encourage voter engagement and alignment with UK elections.
When asked about handing in postal ballots, comments covered many aspects of postal ballots rather than focusing specifically on handing them in. Themes included the need for more robust safeguards, concerns about corruption or fraud, and the handling of postal votes.
All organisations which responded to the question and many individuals agreed that voting rights in the Scottish Parliament and Local Government Elections should be extended to some or all persons detained on mental health grounds related to criminal justice. However, four fifths (81%) of individuals opposed extending voting rights to this group due to concerns of criminality or mental incapacity.
Mixed views about extending voting rights to people seeking asylum in Scotland were expressed. Three quarters of organisations (75%) were in favour, but four fifths of individuals (79%) were against it.
Half of the respondents highlighted issues they felt changes in the Elections Act 2022 to introduce voter ID and postal vote renewals would raise. These included arguments both for and against the use of voter ID and potential challenges with postal voting proposals.
All organisations agreed with the proposed presumption against a Scottish devolved election being held on the same day as a UK Parliament election. Individuals were evenly split in their views, with 49% in favour and 51% opposed.
While only one in five individuals (21%) agreed that the maximum period by which the Presiding Officer can propose the postponement of a Scottish Parliament election should be extended beyond one month, four of the six organisations that responded agreed.
All organisations agreed the date of dissolution should be changed to the day before the election. Views were broadly split between individuals, with 47% in favour and 52% against.
A small majority of both individuals and organisations were in favour of the Presiding Officer having the power to change the date of a Scottish Parliament by-election if it is no longer possible to hold the election on the originally selected date. Of those answering, 52% of individuals and 57% of organisations agreed.
In other comments on changing the date of a Scottish Parliament by-election, the most common theme was opposition due to fears of undue delays in by-elections. Some respondents felt existing arrangements were sufficient or felt dates could be changed on the condition that powers are only used legitimately and exceptionally.
Views were mixed on whether the Convenor of the Electoral Management Board (EMB) should be given the power to postpone national Local Government elections in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the Scottish Government. Over two thirds of individuals and just under half of organisations were against this idea.
Overall, respondents were most likely to indicate that the law should not allow a local government by-election to be postponed; 58% expressed this view. Those who supported the proposal were relatively evenly split between whether the decision should be made by the convenor of the EMB (22%) or the Returning Officer (17%). There was, however, more support among the eight organisations who answered. Most (87%) felt a postponement should be allowed, with a preference for the Returning Officer or someone else making the decision.
Campaigning and finance
Three quarters of organisations and over four fifths of individuals supported using the same language clarifying the definition of notional spending adopted in the UK Elections Act 2022.
A majority agreed third party campaigners should register with the Electoral Commission if they spend more than £10,000 across the UK, with over four fifths of respondents (82%) holding this view. Two thirds of individuals and both organisations which responded to the question felt the spending limit should be reduced to £700 for overseas-based third parties ineligible to register with the Electoral Commission.
The proposal to allow an order-making power for Scottish Ministers to add, change or remove categories of third-party campaigners was opposed by a majority of both individuals (58%) and organisations (67%). However, there was widespread agreement that the Electoral Commission should be able to provide a code of practice on third-party expenditure in Scottish devolved elections, with 85% of individuals and all four organisations giving their backing.
Three quarters of individuals (75%) and two of the four organisations responding agreed with the proposal to increase the maximum fine to £500,000 for breaches of electoral law in Scottish elections. Some felt £500,000 was too high, while others thought it was insufficient. A range of different upper limits were suggested.
All organisations and two thirds (64%) of individuals agreed with the proposal to revoke their own regulations for digital imprints and rely on the provisions of the Elections Act. Arguments in favour included it would be simpler and consistent across the UK, resulting in less confusion and better compliance.
Administration and Governance
Two fifths (39%) felt there should be no change to the process for approving boundary changes. Option 3, a form of automatic approval, was the most popular, backed by 34% overall and three quarters (75%) of organisations, including Boundaries Scotland. Of those who supported one of the three options presented in the paper, 58% supported Option 3 overall, as did 86% of organisations.
Respondents were broadly opposed to the proposal for the Scottish Parliament to have greater oversight of the Electoral Commission's devolved activities. Three fifths (60%) disagreed, including four of the five organisations who answered the question. Many stressed the need for the Commission to remain free from political influence.
Few respondents shared their views on the role and structure of the EMB. The most common theme was the recognition of the importance of impartiality and transparency in the EMB's operations. All organisations, including the EMB, agreed a Deputy Convenor post should be established, though individuals' views were split.
A wide range of opinions was received relating to the Scottish Government's electoral reform questions, with a divergence between individuals and organisations in some areas. Organisations tended to adopt a rights-based focus or address procedural and practical arrangements, whereas individuals were more concerned about the need for safeguards in voting arrangements.
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