More than 2.2 million votes were cast on 5 May 2016 – the highest number ever recorded at a general election to the Scottish Parliament. The priority at any election is to ensure that people find it easy to participate and have confidence in the process. In our report on the election, published today, we found that nearly all voters [97%] found it easy to complete the ballot papers and more than nine in ten [92%] told us that they were confident the election was well-run.
This was the first national election at which 16 and 17 year olds were entitled to vote. Approximately 80,000 of them registered to vote at the election. Our research following the election showed that this age group had high levels of awareness and knowledge about the registration process, which is really encouraging. However it remains the case that young people are much less likely to report having voted than older voters. This means that more work needs to be done to ensure that not only are young people registered to vote but that they are also encouraged to be active participants in the democratic process.
The Electoral Management Board for Scotland (EMB) plays a key role in providing support, direction and challenge for those delivering the elections. Since it was established in 2009 the EMB has had to rely on the good will and support of local authorities subsidising it through the provision of staff resources. This cannot continue, which is why in today’s report we are also calling for the the EMB to be provided with a statutory role at all elections.
While the election was well-run we cannot afford to be complacent and assume that there is no room for improvement in the way that elections could be managed and delivered. There will be significant work ahead if we want to ensure we have a modern electoral process which keeps pace with the changing needs, and demands, of society.
However, progress is hampered by current electoral law, which is complex and fragmented and in many places out of date. A consolidated, simplified, updated and improved set of laws (made in Scotland for the administration of devolved elections) would enable elections to be run much more efficiently and cost-effectively than at present and make it easier to introduce any necessary changes. It will also ensure that the law is fit for purpose and more accessible to those who need to use it, including candidates and voters.
We continue to support the Law Commissions’ review of electoral law and urge the Scottish and UK Governments to support the work of the Law Commissions to enable the project to move on to the next stage, allowing the drafting of new law in time for it to be implemented before the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.
The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament, for the first time, responsibility for its own elections as it already has in respect to local government elections in Scotland. This includes having legislative competence over some of the functions of the Electoral Commission in respect to our role at Scottish Parliament elections. We welcome these developments and believe it is important for the Commission to be accountable to, and scrutinised by, the Scottish Parliament for its activities and spending in relation to these elections. We look forward to working with the Scottish Parliament to achieve this in the most effective and transparent way.
As I approach the end of my term as Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, it provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the significant level of work over the past nine years which has gone into developing the delivery of truly voter – focussed electoral registration services and elections. During this time the electoral community in Scotland has delivered seven major sets of elections and three important referendums as well as countless by-elections. And with the introduction of individual electoral registration they have also delivered the most significant change in electoral administration since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1928. All of this has been delivered against a backdrop of significant reductions in local authority budgets and staff resource. The fact that voters reported high levels of satisfaction at all these electoral events is a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of our Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and their staff. It is important that we do not become complacent or take their efforts for granted. They deserve our thanks.
Electoral Commissioner, Scotland