Inquiry launched into Scottish voting confusion

LONDON (Reuters) - An independent inquiry is to be held into the conduct of the Scottish elections after high levels of spoilt votes and delays caused by a new electronic voting system, the Electoral Commission said on Friday.

A returning officer oversees results of a spoilt paper projected on a screen behind him at an election counting centre in west Edinburgh May 4, 2007. REUTERS/Toby Melville

In one Glasgow constituency, more than 2,000 votes were rejected as spoilt and there were fears that as many as 100,000 votes could have been rejected across the country.

The commission said it would carry out a “full, independent review” of the Scottish elections.

“In particular, it will be focusing on the reasons for the high number of rejected ballots, the electronic counting process and the arrangements for postal voting,” it said.

The Commission is an independent body set up by parliament to register political parties and monitor elections.

Scottish National Party Leader Alex Salmond said the decision to hold different types of election on the same day for the Scottish parliament and councils had been “deeply mistaken.”

“As a direct result, tens of thousands of votes across Scotland have been discounted,” he added. “That is totally unacceptable in a democratic society.”

In some seats, candidates won by a smaller margin than the number of invalid ballots.

Voters had to deal with two ballot papers with different voting systems.

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On the parliamentary ballot paper, they had to mark a “x”, but on the council ballot they had to write a number.

“I would say 60 percent of people coming into our polling station were unsure of how to vote,” one poll worker told the BBC Web site.

Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society said the parliamentary ballot paper, containing two lists of regional and constituency candidates, appeared to have caused the most problems.

“It looks as if many people have been confused by the instructions at the top of that paper,” he told BBC Radio.

Adding to the chaos, counts were suspended till midday in many areas including Aberdeen and Edinburgh because the computerised tally machines were running too slowly.

The traditional manual count was replaced by an electronic count across Scotland because of the complications of introducing a proportional voting system for the country’s 32 councils.

But despite testing in advance, problems with the automatic counting system forced a number of returning officers to call a suspension mid-count.

A spokeswoman for DRS Data Services, which supplied the electronic counting machines, told the BBC that the delays were being caused by a “small issue” that technical staff were working hard to resolve.

“The e-counting system has not crashed. This is a temporary interruption to one small aspect of the overall process,” she said.

There were also problems with the late delivery of some postal votes.