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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Four reasons why count went wrong
Frustrated election worker
Technical hitches have caused frustration for election officials
Enormous concern has been voiced at the number of "spoiled" ballot papers in the Scottish parliamentary and council elections.

In some cases, the number of rejected votes was greater than the winning candidate's margin of victory.

Tens of thousands of papers have been discounted, and the system has been derided by many as a shambles.

But what exactly is a spoiled paper? The BBC's Huw Williams watched election officials at the count in Aberdeen to find out.


The electronic machines reading ballot papers scanned them incredibly quickly. Most were fed straight through, read successfully, and ended up being put back in a box from which they could be retrieved and re-checked if necessary. Job done.

But every so often one paper got thrown out, because the system couldn't scan it.

All of those cases ended up displayed on computer monitors round the hall, while the returning officer's staff carefully tried to make sense of what each voter had meant.

After watching that process, it seems to me that there were four different things going on:

STUPID MACHINES

Sometimes it was clear that the system couldn't understand what the human voter wanted to do. In one case, for example, someone had ticked boxes on the constituency and list MSP ballot paper, instead of marking crosses.

But it was obvious who they had meant to vote for, and they had only voted for one person in each category. Simple. The officials told the computer not to be so silly, and the votes were counted. There were other cases where papers had been folded, and that had apparently interfered with the scanning, although the marks were perfectly clear.

PROTEST VOTES

Sometimes a voter had clearly meant to spoil their ballot. I saw one paper on which a Nazi swastika had been very carefully drawn against each candidate's name. I suppose that was meant to send a message that none of the politicians standing was acceptable.

That paper, and others like it, had to be rejected, though perhaps there ought to be a "None of the above" box?

OLD-FASHIONED CONFUSION

On one council ballot I watched being assessed, the voter had carefully worked down all the candidates. Their favourite had a big bold one in the box. Then there was a two. And a three. But then it all went a bit pear-shaped.

Two candidates clearly and unambiguously had a great big four next to them. It had to be thrown out, because it just wasn't clear what order they were supposed to be in.

MY HEAD'S GOING TO EXPLODE

It is this last group that is the most problematic, with an elector seeming to have mixed up the different ballots, applying procedures for one vote to the wrong one.

There were plenty of forms on which the candidates on the constituency MSP form had been given numbers in order of preference, but you were only supposed to vote for one of them with a cross or tick. The numbering thing was only meant to be on the list of prospective councillors.

You could say that the instructions were there, in black and white, on the ballot papers. There were also Election Information Officers at polling places to help voters who found the process confusing. But if so many people got it so wrong, was the system badly designed? It seems that thousands of people have been disenfranchised.






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