Electoral organisations in Scotland believe that more than 2 million people could vote by post at the Holyrood elections in May, in order to avoid crowded polling stations during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While councils and electoral officials have said the parliamentary election scheduled for 6 May could be held safely if the pandemic is kept under control, but The Guardian reported on Monday the process could see some costly logistical hurdles.
Polling by the Electoral Commission, the UK’s primary elections regulator, found that 68% of Scotland’s 4 million voters could choose to use postal votes – an increase of nearly 4 times the typical number, which would increase the financial cost of the election.
The Electoral Commission surveys carried out since last August discovered that while 77% of voters could show up to polling stations if appropriate measures were in place, 23% would prefer to vote by post in addition to the 18% of electors who typically use a postal vote.
Of those who usually show up to polling stations, 61% said they would shift to a postal ballot if encouraged, seeing the total number of people who could potentially register for an absentee vote spike to 2.7 million.
This would mean that council officials would have to register an extra 2 million voters for absentee ballots, assess their identities, following by the cost of printing, posting and validating their vote.
Concerns among the Electoral Commission also include a belief that up to 3-5% could be spoiled by voters filling out the forms incorrectly, potentially negating up to 135,000 votes.
Political parties in Scotland are reportedly planning to push for postal voting heavily among their supporters and address voters in the coming few weeks, telling them to reduce risk from the pandemic and alleviate any potential impact of turnout.
Some council leaders are concerned about the high costs to health risks of holding the election and have issued requests to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the umbrella body for the country’s 32 councils, to evaluate if the national ballot can be safely carried out.
Scotland’s political parties are planning to promote postal voting heavily among their supporters and encourage voters in the next few weeks in order to minimise the risk from the pandemic and mitigate the impact on turnout.
The Scottish parliament’s official dissolution has been officially delayed until 5 May to allow for MSPs to return to Holyrood for an emergency session if the pandemic leads to changes the election schedule. The body would typically be dissolved in late March.
“If there’s any change made to the timing of the election or to the rules of conduct, it’s really important that those are not decisions for the government of the day alone, it would be a cross-party decision and one that involves [Holyrood’s] presiding officer as well,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
Both Westminster and the Scottish government's have said that elections will go ahead as planned in England, Wales and Scotland.
The UK Labour party is reportedly also considering a similar drive for English council, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections, using the “vote early” slogan, used to encourage postal voting in last years United States presidential election.
Mass postal voting in the US elections courted widespread controversy, with top Republican's including former President Trump claiming that absentee ballots were used to skew the election in favour of the Democratic ticket.
Despite there being no evidence of significant voter fraud through postal voting, the delayed count in the United States inflamed the issued by dragging the final announcement of the election results into its third day.
On the night of the election, key swing states showed an initial lead to Trump but as the postal votes were counted, the numbers quickly turned in the favour of now-President Joe Biden.