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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 17:37 GMT
Call for voter education campaign
Ballot box
Voters face different ways of choosing their representatives
Support, education and a national media campaign are key to handling Scotland's expanding variety of voting systems, an election official has said.

Revised processes for local government will see larger wards with polling done by ranking candidates by preference.

Deputy returning officer for Dundee, Derek Miller, said an awareness drive would definitely be required.

The Scottish Executive said it was working on an information campaign ahead of elections in 2007.

Mr Miller said that voters were comfortable with the first-past-the-post "cross in a box" system for Westminster elections.

This system is entirely new, it asks voters to rank people in order of preference, not to mark a cross, which they've done for generations
Derek Miller
Returning officer

But he said election staff were asked for more advice when it comes to the top-up list system used for Holyrood.

He believes holding Holyrood elections on the same day as local elections under the revised processes of single transferable vote (STV) could cause confusion.

He said: "This system is entirely new, it asks voters to rank people in order of preference, not to mark a cross, which they've done for generations.

"It will exercise them to some extent, they'll definitely need some support and voter education.

Accuracy concerns

"We'll certainly train all our staff so they are in a position to answer all their questions, but I think it does need a national media campaign to back it up."

Mr Miller said most election administrators were pressing for ministers to decouple the Holyrood and local elections.

He said the counting for Scottish Parliament seats followed by a day of counting for council wards put election staff under extra strain.

We are developing an awareness campaign ahead of the 2007 elections
Scottish Executive spokeswoman

"It's an exercise you need to do accurately, it's an exercise you need to do carefully and if people are getting tired and stressed accuracy can suffer," he added.

The Arbuthnott Commission, which reported on Scotland's polling systems on Thursday, has recommended to the Scottish Parliament that the elections should be held on separate days.

Mr Miller said he has travelled to Northern Ireland to see their experience of single transferable voting, which has been in place for about 30 years.

He said one pitfall was the higher level of spoilt papers.

"I can only draw the conclusion that it is the nature of the paper and the choices that have to be made that is causing the confusion and the errors," he told BBC Scotland.

Scottish secretary

"It's going to be hard work for all of us, those of us who are going to be organising the elections are not looking forward to it but we'll rise to the occasion I'm sure."

A spokeswoman for the executive said: "We recognise that introducing a new system will raise issues for voters.

"We are developing an awareness campaign ahead of the 2007 elections to inform and educate the electorate."

She added that the campaign was being worked on at the moment.

The Arbuthnott report has been sent to Scottish Secretary Alistair Darling and First Minister Jack McConnell who will now decide whether its recommendations are implemented.

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