Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
The Scottish electoral system
On 6 May, 1999, voters will go to the polls to elect the first Scottish Parliament since 1707.
They will be known as Members of the Scottish Parliament, or MSPs, and will be chosen in one of two ways:
Electors will therefore have two votes on separate ballot papers. One for a candidate in their constituency (mauve ballot paper) and one for a party list in their region (peach ballot paper). Voters will also be given a white ballot paper, but this is for the separate Scottish local council elections.
Independent research has found two main ways that people are confused by the new system:
They can vote for the candidate at constituency level who represents the same party or a different party to the one they voted for at regional level.
The Additional Member System
The constituency MSPs are chosen according to the traditional system used in Westminster elections. A candidate needs simply to poll more votes than any other single rival to be elected.
The system for electing the Additional Members is more complex.
Electors will cast their second vote for a 'party list'. This is a list submitted by registered parties with their list of candidates in order of preference.
If the party succeeds in winning one of these 'top-up' seats, the person named as first on its list will be elected. If it wins two top-up seats, then the first two will be elected, and so on.
It is important, therefore, for candidates to be near the top of their party's list for them to stand a realistic chance of being elected.
There are two complications to the lists.
First, a 'party list' can be an individual person who is standing at the regional level rather than in a constituency.
Secondly, several candidates are standing both in a constituency and on a regional top-up list. If they succeed in a constituency this takes priority and their name will be removed from the regional list so they cannot be elected twice.
The all-important divisor
The formula for deciding which parties win regional top-up seats is known as the d'Hondt system and is used widely across Europe.
It is also used in the Northern Ireland Assembly to allocate positions on the executive.
First, party list votes are totalled from each of the constituencies making up the region.
These totals are then divided by the number of seats each party has won - plus one.
The party with the highest resulting total elects one Additional Member.
That party's divisor is then increased by one (because of its victory) and new figures calculated. Again, the party with the highest total wins a seat.
The process is then repeated until all seven Additional Members are elected.
The aim of the system is to compensate parties which pile up votes in constituencies but fail to win many MSPs.
Under the d'Hondt system, they are much more likely to gain Additional Members. Conversely, parties which do well in constituency elections will do less well in the top-up seats.
Click here for a demonstration of how this system works in practice.