MSPs call for more resources to ensure confidence in 2021 election
MSPs have urged the Scottish Government to “over-allocate” resources to ensure people are able to vote in next year’s Scottish Parliament election.
The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has expressed concern about “a shortage of resource restricting participation” if the option of postal voting is not sufficiently publicised or if the safety of polling stations is inhibited.
In its report on the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill, the committee called for “early and widespread promotion” of postal voter registration, as well as measures to “educate, encourage and simplify take-up”.
But the committee has backed the general principles of the legislation, recognising that protections against coronavirus may be required for the election scheduled for 6 May 2021.
Convener Bill Kidd said: “Our committee’s first priority is to ensure that no voter is unable to vote. Whilst there is no doubt that next year’s election will be unlike any other, it is vital that there are the resources and support in place to deal with the increased demand on postal votes.
“We want to see a clear plan of education and encouragement with regards to postal voting. But more than this, the process must be simplified. This cannot become a barrier to anyone casting their ballot at next year’s election.”
The Scottish Government and partners are currently working on the assumption that up to 40 per cent of the electorate may wish to cast their vote via post. However, the committee said there must be further contingency planning in case uptake is greater.
MSPs also expressed concern that the bill moves the deadline to register for a postal vote earlier, though acknowledges this “may be a necessary step to ensure that electoral administrators can provide a postal vote for all who seek one”.
The bill would also empower ministers to decide if an all-postal vote would be necessary for public health reasons as a last resort, but the committee has asked the government to bring forward measures to ensure such a decision would be scrutinised and approved by parliament.
Similarly, the committee has said it is “not comfortable” with ministers having the sole power to decide whether the 2021 poll should take place over several days. It again asks to ensure parliamentary scrutiny of such a decision.
Deputy convener Patrick Harvie said: “For a bill which will sit at the heart of how our democracy functions, there must be parliamentary scrutiny on key decisions such as extending the ballot over multiple days. These decisions must not be taken by Ministers alone and must be subject to scrutiny.”