Democracy Volunteers is the UK’s largest election observation group and it has been assessing the recent council by-election in Scotland by attending polling stations and holding meetings with election officials online.

Today the group has issued an interim statement on its recommendations ahead of the May Parliamentary elections in Scotland. The final report will be issued once the other by-elections have been concluded, which are planned for March.

The four interim recommendations are:

  • A decision on whether the elections are to proceed should be made as soon as possible, preferably before the end of January.
  • We believe ‘advance voting’ would be an appropriate solution to some of the challenges that social distancing can cause when attending polling stations. We, therefore, recommend at least one extra day of voting (Wednesday 5th May 2021).
  • We believe that ensuring that all those who have the right to vote should be able to exercise the franchise, but we also believe that the use of emergency proxy votes will not be the solution for some voters, especially in large rural areas. Another arrangement will need to be deployed to allow those who are unable to leave home due to sudden self-isolation, after the deadline for postal votes has passed.
  • Counting the votes will need to be conducted over several days following the close of polls. We recommend there should be no overnight counting on Thursday 6th May and counting will depend on the capacity of local authorities to find suitable accommodation for counting and the number of counting staff, as well as party agents and election observers.

Commenting, John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers said:

‘We commend elections staff for the way they conducted these by-elections in such challenging circumstances and were impressed with the way that they made significant changes to how polling stations are run. The use of screens, limiting access to the polling booths in an ordered fashion and issuing voters with individual pencils and hand sanitiser all helped to decrease the potential impact of the virus. They have shown that elections can be conducted in the UK just as other countries have conducted them in the last 9 months.’

‘However, as we near the May elections in Scotland, as well as across the rest of Great Britain, those who conduct the elections need to know as soon as possible so that they can plan them properly. Staff need to be recruited and trained, polling stations need to be organised as do count venues. It will all be substantially different to previous elections.’

‘Above all elections staff told us they need the time to get ready for May 6th. However, if there are changes such as advance voting, which we welcome, this advance notice needs to be as soon as possible.’

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