8 SATURDAY VOTING
8.1 This chapter presents an analysis of respondents' comments in relation to Question 6 in the consultation document. Question 6 asked for views on whether the referendum could be held on a Saturday as a way of increasing voter turnout. It also asked respondents to consider other suggestions as to how voting could be made easier - for example, by using alternatives to traditional polling stations (such as shops, libraries), or through the use of mobile polling stations.
Question 6: What are your views on the idea that the referendum could be held on a Saturday or on other ways which would make voting easier?
8.2 A total of 20,227 respondents made a comment at Question 6. Of these, 18,994 respondents made a comment specifically about the proposal to hold the referendum on a Saturday. An analysis of these comments indicated that 46% broadly agreed with holding the referendum on a Saturday and 32% did not; the remaining respondents had mixed or unclear views. The balance of opinion on holding the referendum on a Saturday is discussed further at the end of this chapter.
Comments on the issue of Saturday voting
8.3 Comments in relation to Question 6 generally focussed on whether voter turnout would be higher if the vote were to be held on a Saturday. Those who broadly supported the idea of a Saturday vote frequently said that they would be in favour of the idea if it increased voter turnout.
8.4 Respondents who supported holding the referendum on a Saturday often suggested that many people would find it easier to get to a polling station on a Saturday, most obviously because fewer people would be working.
8.5 Respondents who supported a Saturday ballot sometimes also saw advantages beyond the potential to increase voter turnout. In particular, respondents (including those with school age children) were keen to avoid schools being closed to be used as polling stations; and a few respondents who identified themselves as employers reported that their business or workplace can be disrupted if staff have to take leave to cover childcare because their children are not in school.
8.6 However, those who were opposed to Saturday voting suggested that voter turnout might actually be lower on a Saturday. Three main reasons were given for this:
- For many people, and particularly those with children, Saturday can be the busiest day of the week and some people may struggle to find time to cast their vote. It was also suggested that clashes with key sporting events, and football matches in particular, could prevent some people from going to the polls.
- Some people may have religious beliefs that would prevent them from voting on a Saturday. Respondents also pointed out that there could be implications for the first day of the count falling on a Sunday, or of the count having to be delayed until Monday.
- Continuity is important. Respondents argued that Scotland has always voted on a Thursday and people would be more likely to remember to vote, and indeed feel comfortable voting, if the tradition of Thursday voting was maintained.
8.7 In relation to the latter point, respondents also gave another reason for preferring the referendum vote on a Thursday, rather than a Saturday. It was suggested that a vote of such importance would not be the right time to "try something new", not only because of the possible impact on turnout but also because procedures for a Saturday vote would be untested. Any problems that resulted from the introduction of new practice could call the legitimacy of the vote into question. Respondents who held this view were not necessarily opposed in principle to voting on a Saturday, but simply felt that it would be more appropriate to "pilot" Saturday voting at a local council election or a Scottish Parliamentary election rather than introducing it for the first time for the referendum vote.
8.8 Other respondents were opposed to a change in existing arrangements for Thursday voting. Among this group were those who believed the change to a Saturday was only being suggested because the current administration anticipates the pro-independence vote would be greater if the referendum was held on a Saturday (although it was not clear why those making this comment felt this would be the case).
8.9 However, other respondents presented more pragmatic arguments against a change to a Saturday vote. The point was made that the costs of holding the referendum on a Saturday might be higher, principally because of increased staffing and venue hire costs. The impact on costs of staffing a Sunday count was also raised.
Having a vote over two days
8.10 Another frequently made comment was that voting should extend over more than one day. Those respondents who made this comment generally suggested either a Friday and a Saturday, or a Saturday and a Sunday. Two other less commonly expressed - and opposing - views were that:
- Whichever day of the week the referendum is held, school or public holidays should be avoided.
- The referendum date should be declared a public holiday (thus helping ensure more people are not at work and have the opportunity to vote).
Comments about other ways of increasing voter turnout
8.11 In their responses to Question 8, around one in ten respondents made a more general comment in support of any / all efforts to maximise turnout and make it as easy as possible for people to vote.
8.12 However, respondents' views were mixed in relation to the specific suggestions set out in the consultation document for making voting easer - including the idea of locating polling stations in a range of non-traditional venues. As with a possible change to Saturday voting, there were those who felt that tried and tested practice should be retained, not least because the electorate has long-established and clear expectations about where they go to cast their vote. There were also concerns that allowing people to vote in locations such as supermarkets might in some way trivialise what is a very important event and that the security of the polling stations (and of ballot boxes in particular) might be harder to ensure in non-traditional venues. Similarly, respondents suggested that the potential for fraudulent voting might increase if there were too many polling stations.
8.13 In contrast, other respondents felt that any changes that might make voting easier or more appealing would be worthy of careful consideration. Some of the suggestions made by respondents included longer voting hours and allowing people to vote through the internet or by text. It was felt that these latter approaches would be particularly appealing to younger people and might boost turnout among this group.
8.14 Other respondents suggested that promoting postal voting might also help boost the turnout, although there were concerns that the postal voting system, in particular, could be open to fraud. Respondents tended to feel that procedures either needed to be reviewed and tightened, or there should be no postal voting allowed for the referendum.
8.15 Finally on the subject of turnout, there were a few respondents who felt that the easiest and most effective way of ensuring a high turnout for the referendum (and all other elections) would simply be to make voting compulsory.
Balance of opinion on holding the referendum on a Saturday
8.16 As noted at paragraph 8.2 above, 18,994 respondents made a comment about holding the referendum on a Saturday. Of these, 46% broadly agreed with the idea of a Saturday vote, and 32% disagreed; the remainder expressed unclear or mixed views. Annex 3 provides details of how responses were classified in relation to the extent of their agreement or disagreement.
8.17 The proportions of individual and organisational / group respondents who agreed and disagreed with the idea of Saturday voting was broadly similar to the proportions overall. (See Table A3.4 in Annex 3.)
8.18 Other points to note are that:
- The Lanarkshire campaign expressed opposition to Saturday voting and advocated the vote on a Thursday. Neither the SNP nor the Scottish Labour campaigns included a statement about Saturday voting. Only nine respondents amended a standard SNP or Scottish Labour campaign response to give their views on this issue.
- Around a quarter of both individual and organisational respondents (22% and 24% respectively) expressed mixed or unclear views on the subject of Saturday voting.
- In addition, a relatively high proportion of individual and organisational respondents (13% and 17% respectively) expressed conditional or qualified agreement with the proposal. As discussed above, these respondents often suggested that the referendum could be held on a Saturday if there was evidence to suggest that voter turnout would increase as a result, while others suggested that Saturday could be an option, but as part of a two-day voting period.
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