Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Holyrood results not delayed after all

Contrary to some excited reports last weekend, the count for the Scottish election will not be held up by the AV referendum after all. So expect a result late on Friday May 6, not unlike 2007.

Here is the full statement from the body in charge:

Statement regarding the timing of the count for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections
Statement from the Convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland / Regional Counting Officer regarding the Timing of the Count for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections on 5 May 2011
In the past few days there has been some discussion of the potential timing of the counts of the Scottish Parliamentary elections to be held on 5 May 2011. In particular, concerns have been raised that the counting of the papers for the UK Referendum on a new voting system for Westminster might delay the results of the Scottish elections. Contrary to what was reported in the media there has never been any suggestion that results would be delayed until the Saturday. Even Returning Officers considering next day counts would intend to have all results available by around lunchtime or early afternoon on the Friday.
The priority in any election count is not speed but accuracy. It is not about doing things as quickly as possible but delivering a secure, accurate count putting the interests of the voter first at all times. The timing of the count is a matter for each individual Returning Officer and in their decisions they will plan arrangements to ensure that the count is conducted accurately, securely, within the specified legislative framework and in a way that enhances voters' confidence in the democratic process. Circumstances faced by Returning Officers vary across the country - with different geography, capacity of count venues and size of electorates - and their plans for the count need to reflect those varying conditions.
The combination of these forthcoming elections with the UK Referendum does add to the complexity and scale of the processes that Returning Officers will have to manage on 5 May. However, in my discussions with colleagues it is clear that even for those who are considering counts which might commence on the Friday morning the expectation is that all Scottish Parliamentary results would be available by lunchtime on Friday 6 May or early that afternoon at the latest. There is no expectation that any results would be delayed into the weekend. There should be ample time to complete the Scottish Parliamentary Counts before we turn to the Referendum.
Arguments that some Returning Officers are making in favour of commencing the count on the day following the poll are not solely contingent on the Referendum. The volume and complexity of tasks to be undertaken on the day of poll has increased greatly in recent years, particularly due to the need to check the identity of postal voters. This has the potential of delaying the count significantly. Overnight counts see staff and observers called on to make and scrutinise key decisions after working long hours. The Electoral Management Board has previously stated its support for any Returning Officer who chooses to count on the day following the poll if they were to decide that this would be in the best interest of delivering an accurate, secure result in which the voter has full confidence. Indeed, the Gould report following the elections of May 2007 recommended that there should be a move away from overnight counts.
Even with overnight counts, due to the complexity of the Scottish Parliamentary elections system, the results would probably not be known until late in the morning of the Friday in any case. In 2003 with an overnight count the national result was not clear until lunchtime on the Friday following the poll. Under current planning, even counts commencing on the Friday would be able to deliver to a very similar timescale.
Mary Pitcaithly
Convener of the Interim Electoral Management Board for Scotland and Regional Counting Officer for Scotland

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