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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 00:27 GMT
Watchdog backs vote count change
Ballot count
The commission said it could take 20 hours to count an STV election
The late-night drama of counting votes in Holyrood elections could be a thing of the past under changes recommended by the Electoral Commission.

The watchdog said the complexity of calculating both the Holyrood votes and council election votes means counting should begin the day after polling.

The commission said changing the times would ensure staff were more alert.

In 2007, the local elections will be conducted under the single transferable vote (STV) system for the first time.

Changing the times would mean that staff are fully alert when the ballot papers are counted
Andy O'Neill
Head of the Electoral Commission's Scottish Office

The proposals came in a report on the timing of counts at Holyrood and local elections.

The advent of the STV system for local authority elections in 2007 means there will be three different voting systems on polling day, increasing the time it takes to count votes.

There will be the constituency and list votes in the Holyrood election, along with the STV system for council seats.

Experience from last year's Northern Ireland local government elections suggested it could take up to two working days to count an STV election, said the report.

At the last Holyrood elections in 2003, the Scottish Parliament votes were counted and declared on the Thursday night.

The local government ballot papers were not counted until the Friday morning.

'Key concern'

The last Holyrood result was declared late on Friday afternoon and most local government results were then declared by 1600 GMT.

Andy O'Neill, head of the commission's Scottish office, said that all groups concerned with the elections believed the present arrangement was "unacceptable".

"Under the current first-past-the-post system, local government election counts take around six hours from start to finish," he said.

"However, experience in Northern Ireland has shown that the STV system, which we will see in Scotland from 2007, can take as long as 20 hours to complete.

"A key concern was fatigue amongst the returning officers' staff, candidates and agents, all of whom are vital to ensuring the count process is accurate and transparent."

Electronic counting

He said that by 0500 GMT, the 4,500 staff in counting centres across the country could be prone to making mistakes.

"Changing the times would mean that staff are fully alert when the ballot papers are counted," he added.

The report said discussions were already under way between the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office about the development of an electronic counting system

It said a final decision was due by May on whether to go ahead with this method in 2007.

The commission said electronic counting should be considered, provided that security, robustness, accuracy and value for money were assured.

Hear from the head of the Electoral Commission

MSPs approve new voting system
23 Jun 04 |  Scotland
Wallace urges Holyrood vote change
22 Sep 03 |  Scotland

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