Future widening of suffrage must be in place early, according to electoral body

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 22 December 2014 in News

A report assessing the Scottish independence referendum found that the body benefited from having additional time to engage with the electorate 

Legislation relevant to giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote should be in place at least six months before Electoral Registration Officers begin canvassing activities for future referendums, according to the Electoral Commission.

A report assessing the Scottish independence referendum, which has implications for a potential referendum on the EU, as well as plans to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the 2016 Scottish national election, found that the body benefited from having additional time to engage with the electorate. 

But although the Referendum Act was passed early, provisions allowing the commission to compile the Register of Young Voters were not commenced until two months before the start of the canvass of 16 and 17 year olds. As such, it recommends beginning the process of widening suffrage earlier in future votes.

The report says: “In sharp contrast to the referendums in 2011 where the rules were confirmed only three months ahead of polling day, the Scottish Independence Referendum Act was passed nearly nine months ahead of the poll. This ensured that there was adequate time for those administering the poll to prepare for delivering their respective roles at the referendum.

 “An important lesson from the experience in Scotland, that others looking to extend the franchise should consider carefully, is that it is important time is given both for administrators to do targeted activity to register young people and for campaigners to engage with them.”

The report found 10 per cent of voters said the referendum was their first experience of voting at any statutory poll.

Over 100,000 16 and 17 year olds were included on the register, with 75 per cent saying they voted. 

Further, 97 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds said they would vote again in future elections and referendums.

But while 90 per cent of respondents claimed to know ‘a great deal’ (50 per cent) or a ‘fair amount’ (40 per cent) about the referendum, one per cent said they knew ‘nothing at all’ about the historic vote. 

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