The Administration of Future Elections in Scotland: A consultation exercise to examine the recommendations of the Gould Report to improve administration of future elections in Scotland

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ADMINISTRATION OF FUTURE ELECTIONS IN SCOTLAND
CONSULTATION PAPER

Background

The 2007 Elections and the Gould Report

1. On 8 May 2007 the Electoral Commission appointed Ron Gould, former Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Canada and electoral administration expert, to carry out an independent review of the problems encountered during the combined elections to the Scottish Parliament and local authorities across Scotland held on 3 May. The Gould Report 1, published on 23 October 2007, identified the complex institutional, legislative and administrative landscape that lay behind the Scottish elections of May 2007 and made recommendations on improving the administration of elections. The Scottish Government published its response to Gould 2 in March 2008, accepting the report's main conclusions and undertaking to consult on the way forward for the future administration of elections in Scotland.

2. A key recommendation made by Gould's review was that responsibility for the legislation and administration of future Scottish elections should be transferred to one jurisdictional entity, and that the Scottish Government was the logical choice.

"We would recommend that exploratory discussions take place with a view toward assigning responsibility for both elections to one jurisdictional entity. In our view, the Scottish Government would be the logical institution".

Independent Review of the Scottish Parliamentary and Local Government Elections - January 2008

3. The Scottish Government believes that the current split in legislative responsibility complicates the electoral process. The Scottish Parliament has legislative responsibility for the local government elections, while the UK Government has responsibility for the UK Parliamentary, European and Scottish Parliamentary elections, and the franchise at these and local government elections.

4. On 10 January 2008 the Scottish Parliament debated and passed the following motion:

"That the Parliament welcomes the Gould report, including the recommendation calling for the further devolution of executive and legislative powers to the Scottish Government and the Parliament for the administration of its own elections and the decoupling of future elections to this Parliament and Scotland's councils".

5. In June 2009 the (Calman) Commission on Scottish Devolution 3 recommended in its final report that the administration of elections to the Scottish Parliament should be transferred to Scottish Ministers.

"The powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland relating to the administration of elections to the Scottish Parliament should be devolved".

Commission on Scottish Devolution - June 2009

6. While the recommendation does not go as far in transferring responsibilities as we would like we have asked the UK Government to act on this recommendation and to include it in its proposed Scotland Bill which will implement the Calman Commission recommendations. The Scottish Government will continue to press the UK Government to go further and reflect the recommendations of the Gould report, and the views of the Scottish Parliament, in its proposed legislation. The Scottish Government believes that legislative as well as administrative responsibility should be devolved. This would give the Scottish Parliament the responsibility, amongst other things, for the method of electing MSPs and the franchise for elections to the Scottish Parliament.

7. Ron Gould also recommended that future Scottish Parliamentary and Local Government elections should be decoupled to help prevent voter confusion. The Government's consultation demonstrated overwhelming support for this measure and on 17 June 2009, the Scottish Parliament passed the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Act. This extends the current and next term of local government by one year, meaning the next two rounds of local government elections across Scotland will take place in 2012 and 2017. Thereafter, local elections will revert to four year terms and take place at the mid-point in the Scottish Parliamentary term.

8. Gould's third key recommendation focused on the need to improve co-ordination in the administration of future elections on Scotland. He suggested that the post of Chief Returning Officer should be created to oversee future elections, promoting best practice and ensuring coordination in areas where this would be of benefit. The Scottish Government consulted on this recommendation in December 2008 4. Respondents considered it was an overly bureaucratic and expensive model and was not necessary for Scotland and that instead existing arrangements should be enhanced.

9. The Scottish Government intends to introduce legislation which would place the Electoral Management Board ( EMB) on a statutory footing for local government elections in Scotland at the earliest opportunity. Any legislation would also provide for the Convener to be appointed by Scottish Ministers and for the Convener to have the power of direction. This would build on the Gould recommendations and continue the process of strengthening independent electoral administration.

Consultation

10. The review also focused in detail on many of the processes that relate to the administration of elections in Scotland. This consultation will examine and discuss the remaining recommendations made by the Gould Report and consider options for implementation. These are:

  • Election timetable
  • Process for deciding format and effectiveness of ballot papers
  • The positioning of candidates' names on ballot papers
  • Maintaining the secrecy of the ballot
  • Counting of ballots
  • Auto-adjudication of ballot papers
  • Alternative voting arrangements

11. The outcome of this consultation will inform the Government's drafting of the Scottish Local Elections Order 2012, which will set out the rules for the conduct of these elections.