Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 00:35 UK

Call to appoint elections supremo

Ballot papers, May 2007
More than 140,000 ballots were spoiled at last year's elections

Returning Officers should be brought together to form a board of management for all elections in Scotland, a report from the Electoral Commission has said.

It said the convener of the board should, in effect, become the chief returning officer for Scotland.

The convener should direct elections to the Westminster, Holyrood and European parliaments and local councils.

The report follows last May's Scottish Parliament election fiasco during which 146,000 ballot papers were rejected.

Canadian elections expert Ron Gould was brought in to investigate.

Some of his recommendations have already been acted on.

These include local elections being held separately from parliamentary elections and improvements to the design of ballot papers.

The Electoral Commission, an independent body set up by the UK Parliament, has now made further recommendations.

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It wants an election management board, comprised of all 32 local returning officers.

They would choose a convener, who would have the power to issue directions on how all elections are run, for both Holyrood and Westminster, the European Parliament and local government.

The Scottish Government warned the report's recommendations could be "cumbersome" and reiterated its desire to take control of elections.

Sam Younger, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said the interests of the voters needed to be put "above all else".

He said: "Ensuring that returning officers remain independent, and are reinforced with the leadership, support and direction of the chair of an Election Management Board, would build on the strengths of the current system.

"Our proposal is designed to allow local returning officers to continue to respond to local circumstances while ensuring that there is a consistently high standard of service for all electors across the UK."

The report, Electoral Administration in Scotland, calls for a series of changes.

These include:

• Establishing an electoral management board

• Giving the convener of the board power to ensure that best practise is followed

• Strengthening the role of returning officers to ensure they are distinct from government

• Simplifying electoral law and addressing the shortfall in funding for electoral administration

• Ensuring that electoral law is finalised six months before any election

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said: "The 2007 elections in Scotland brought the shortcomings of the current system into sharp focus.

"The recommendations in this report are based on the findings of the Gould report and the lessons we have learned from the 2007 elections, including the importance of ensuring that electoral law is finalised six months before an election."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are disappointed that the Electoral Commission does not support the view of the Scottish Parliament that the conduct of elections in Scotland should be the responsibility of Holyrood, in order to ensure a much higher degree of accountability for their efficient organisation and conduct.

"We will of course consider all of the Commission's proposals in detail."

A Scotland Office spokesman described the future of elections as "complex" but said it would work with the SNP administration to "put the needs of the voter first".

Scottish Conservative deputy leader, Murdo Fraser said he had backed a previous proposal to appoint a chief returning officer for Scotland but these ideas went much further.

He said: "I have doubts over whether such a large new quango is needed, with 47 members and a self-appointed convener. The proposals are uncosted and likely to lead to an unnecessarily and unwieldy re-organisation."

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