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Scotland's ballot papers

Eddie Mair | 14:07 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

could well be the story of the night. As you may have heard from Nick Robinson on The World at One - there could be only one seat in it in - and there are thousands of ballot papers rejected.

Was it too complicated?


  1. At 02:09 PM on 04 May 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    Could you be the casting vote, Eddie?Chairman Eddie - at last!

    Seriously, though, I hope Nick didn't have anything planned for the rest of the day.

  2. At 02:18 PM on 04 May 2007, Stewart M wrote:

    Does not look too hard but I've a PhD.
    Tell me if the side where they had to put 1-4 is spoiled can they count the side with the X's?

    And vica versa if they put 1-4 on both sides can't they count No 1 as the X

  3. At 02:18 PM on 04 May 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    And now, having looked more carefully at your link, I'm truly puzzled that papers were 'spoiled'. Perhaps people didn't bother to read the instructions? Oh, I don't know - perhaps it's all part and parcel of our 'instant' world where nobody can be bothered to do that. Or to ask if they weren't sure.

  4. At 02:32 PM on 04 May 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    I must say the form looks fairly easy to understand to me. Maybe we need to tell people that they need to read the instructions for 5 minutes before they're allowed to vote...

  5. At 02:37 PM on 04 May 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    Doesn't that look that difficult to me...intersting point Stewart M.

  6. At 03:01 PM on 04 May 2007, Aunt Dahlia wrote:

    It couldn't be a sort of 'none of the above' could it? If the ballot papers got submitted, then lots of someones did turn up to present spoilt or blank papers.

  7. At 03:07 PM on 04 May 2007, Gillian wrote:

    In our English ward we were voting for City and District councils, so had two ballot papers. In addition to written instructions, telling us to vote for 2 candidates on one paper, and 3 on the other, the clerk also told us verbally as she handed us each paper.
    The Scottish ballot paper looked okay to me, but perhaps it would have been better if there had been seperate slips.

  8. At 03:07 PM on 04 May 2007, Belinda wrote:

    I don't think it was too 'complicated' per say, but I also do not think that it was a particularly well-thought out format either, which presumes that all voters will read the instructions carefully first and THEN cast their vote. For anyone who has tried putting together a pre-packaged piece of furniture, then you know that reading the instructions comes last in the run of things.

  9. At 03:08 PM on 04 May 2007, John H. wrote:

    Hmm, it doesn't look too difficult, but I stand by my earlier comment - the numbers speak for themselves. I've just wasted some time trying to get population figures for the Scottish constituencies - and as far as I can tell, the ones I found were total population from a few years ago, so not current voting numbers, but the few I checked suggest between 1.2-2.9% (number of spoilt ballot papers/population). Because of the factors above, that will have to be scaled up to take account of people too young to vote and down because I'm sure most populations will have increased. Whichever way you look at it, that's too high to just say people weren't paying attention.

  10. At 03:09 PM on 04 May 2007, Carl wrote:

    Hey whichever side is awarded the gong, they'll be going on and on and on and on about it for days after!!
    The photo selection is looking much healthier these days..Martha my hero! Couldn't someone persuade Charlotte!?

  11. At 03:13 PM on 04 May 2007, John H. wrote:

    Oh, I'm wondering if the comment I've just made will be let down by my poor language - and that I've suggested that the ballot papers that were rejected were the pampered ones, which were acting up.

    Along with Stewart's interesting question, do you think there is any impact on future voting when somebody has messed up their vote? I know a lot of people won't know for certain they have, but if you suspect you cocked up, does this affect your desire to vote in the future?

  12. At 03:13 PM on 04 May 2007, Peter Jones wrote:

    There is a Darwinian element to this I suppose, not the survival of the fittest so much as the disenfranchisement of the dumbest. A sort of electoral natural selection. Perhaps that's unfair, at least those people bothered to go to the polling station.

  13. At 03:16 PM on 04 May 2007, jonnie wrote:

    RE; Stewart -

    Yes I could have imagined if the vote had been in the republic of Ireland but I thought the Scottish lot were quite bright as a whole?

    We had an Irish gardener once and he laid the turf green side down ;-(

  14. At 03:19 PM on 04 May 2007, Liam Murray wrote:

    We need some balance on this story surely - it may have been unwise to hold both elections on one day but any suggestion that this was too complicated has to be challenged at least.

    Are we really saying the nation of David Hume & Adam Smith struggled to get their heads round two ‘X’s and counting to 3 or 4!

    You won’t get an elected official to say as much for obvious reasons but let's at least acknowledge that something like 2,000,000 people did understand how to vote - surely that says more about the system than the 100,000 who didn't?

  15. At 03:25 PM on 04 May 2007, Liam Murray wrote:

    John H (9),

    Agree the numbers speak for themselves - in 2003 there were almost 2 million voters who cast a vote. It's probably went up this year but even taking those figures of 100,000 get it wrong and c.2,000,000 get it right - what sort of analysis suggests the 95% 'got lucky' and that there's a fundamental problem...?

  16. At 03:32 PM on 04 May 2007, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR wrote:

    I am not an expert on Scottish Elections and Paper Ballots. But as I read this blog, I remember how the Republicans and Democrats in the USA use election tactics such as ballot access, nullification of legitimate signatures, even psychological terrorism against Alternative Parties such as Greens and Libertarians in order to remain in power.

  17. At 03:42 PM on 04 May 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Looking closer, there were two separate pieces of paper! One (the multi-coloured one, required 2 "X"s. The other form, a set of numbers, starting at 1 and increasing. From the limited reports I've read/heard, most complaints were about the first form. I honestly find it difficult to misunderstand.

  18. At 03:44 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:


    No true democracy excludes 5% for failure to comprehend. A truly democratic process must be comprehensible to far more than 95%. Some folk have trouble with spelling, some with forms. It isn't proof of stupidity.

  19. At 03:58 PM on 04 May 2007, Liam Murray wrote:

    Ed (18)

    There must though be a reasonable discussion about what is and isn't comprehensible. Can anyone tell me why two 'x's by the party you support on one sheet and a number '1' against the party you support on the other could possibly be described as incomprehensible?

  20. At 04:07 PM on 04 May 2007, John H. wrote:

    Good use of figures, Liam, but I still question your conclusion. If up to 5% of your electorate are able to misunderstand your instructions, then it's a bit pig-headed to say that they're just stupid. The fact that somebody bothered to turn up to vote make it likely that they wanted their vote to count.

    On a slightly different matter, I was pleased to see the desired general outcome at our council, but can I find any information about our particular councillor? No, I can't. Any suggestions?

  21. At 04:09 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Liam (19),

    I'm sure a Royal Commission, chosen from eminent retired (and ennobled) Civil Servants can devise a system after some months (or years) of consultation.

    It needn't cost more than a few million quid (and eurofunding may be available), and then the various competent Executives can take the points made on-board while determining the next attempt.

    Houb Salaam
    04/05/2007 at 16:12:15 GMT

  22. At 04:11 PM on 04 May 2007, Perky wrote:

    It looks fine to me and the instructions are pretty clear, so I would say that it wouldn't have caused me any problems. The suggestion that it may have been confusing because:

    a) there were two separate elections on the day
    b) the voting methods are slightly different

    is obviously valid, because there were so many spoiled papers - or papers deemed to be spoiled which is, of course, an entirely different thing ;)

  23. At 04:12 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Liam (19),
    "Can anyone tell me why two 'x's by the party you support on one sheet and a number '1' against the party you support on the other could possibly be described as incomprehensible?"

    There are probably upwards of 100,000 folk who might try, but would you comprehend their answers?


  24. At 04:17 PM on 04 May 2007, DI Wyman wrote:

    ..i got it sussed from the word go, it's simple:-

    x² + 2x + 1 = (x + 1)² there for why = spoilt ballot paper

  25. At 04:39 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Perky (22),

    Top harmonist, Your distinction is well made. The 'hanging chads' return to haunt our over-mechanised (de-humanised?) world.

  26. At 04:40 PM on 04 May 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    I suppose its nearly as complicated as getting the words 'Sony Gold Award Winner etc' properly displayed!

  27. At 04:53 PM on 04 May 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    That'll learn me for being sarcastic...all sorted now!

  28. At 05:00 PM on 04 May 2007, Frances O wrote:

    Well, of course, some people 'spoil' their ballot papers as a protest.

    Then there are people who cannot read. Yes; illiteracy still affects a percentage of the population.

    Others can't read English - which I think is sad and/or wrong, as British citizens (mainly female?) who don't know their new country's language are disenfranchised in more ways than in voting. If that's not oxymoronic.

    Maybe some had had one or two too many by the time they got to the polling station. Who knows?

    But people have turned up to vote. And that's important.

    I remember voting for the European and another - can't remember which body - on the same day. Different voting methods. Not too hard. But then I've had a good education, so perhaps I'm one of the lucky ones.

  29. At 05:43 PM on 04 May 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Oh, please. Let's think about it for a second:

    1. Voters go to the polls once every few years. They don't have the chance to get accustomed to the routine - even where there is one.

    2. Basic market research training involves making survey questions as few, and as unambiguous, as possible. Responders don't need much incentive to get bored, lost or anxious.

    3. A first-year Marketing student could have designed something better than this. I'm sorry to say, asking the public to learn 2 separate new voting systems on the same day was doomed from the start.

    4. Watch voter apathy score soar to the heavens, next time Scotland is asked to vote! They'll vote with their slippers and stay at home. And I don't blame them.

    Fifi (a Scot living in England)

  30. At 05:49 PM on 04 May 2007, Alexander Hay wrote:

    Too thick to vote properly? Too thick to have the vote.

  31. At 07:11 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Interesting map:

    A bit like Iraq?

  32. At 07:18 PM on 04 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:


    I refer you to the answer I gave previously to the frogger from Murray.

    Salaam, etc.

  33. At 09:07 PM on 04 May 2007, Valery P wrote:

    I haven't got time at the point of reading this, to check back as to exactly when I posted, it was either last weekend or a little later - but you'll find that, pedant that I am, I predicted these and other problems! I was inducting TD into how to cast her first vote, and was obliged to assimilate all the information myself before I could do so. I said then that it was unnecessarily complicated. Watch this space.............

  34. At 09:21 PM on 04 May 2007, Gat wrote:

    If the mock up ballot papers are exact copies of the real thing with just the names etc. removed (to protect the innocent).

    Then in my view the double sided Scottish Parliament ballot paper was very badly designed and the one instruction that it gave was not accurate.


    When in fact the voter had ONE vote per Column. Not the same thing at all

  35. At 09:38 PM on 04 May 2007, shedlily wrote:

    Enough about all that, have you got your 'Protect and Perfect' yet? Maybe not a primary concern for radio presenters. Could the serum have delayed Moira Stewart's departure from BBC news? How important is the way we look?

  36. At 09:58 PM on 04 May 2007, DI Wyman wrote:

    oh...shedlily, shedlily, shedlily dearheart...how important is the way we look ?....very.....first impressions always count

  37. At 12:54 AM on 05 May 2007, Val P wrote:

    Fearless - yes exactly, there were two separate papers, with two different methods of voting. But you had to cast 3 votes in two different ways.

    Gat - and this was exactly what I found when I went to cast my vote (quite apart from all the misgivings re 2 x Xs on one ballot paper, and 1 to 9 etc on the other) when I reached the polling station and was faced with the "buff and violet" bi-coloured paper, what did it say at the top but "you have two votes". For those who hadn't investigated earlier, or who were harassed by the different styles of voting on the 2 papers, it was not immediately obvious that the 2 votes should be in separate columns. Had I been designing the papers, I'd have used arrows to each side!!

    I kid you not folks, pedantry aside, it was misleading, if you didn't realise that you had two votes for MSPs - one for constituency and one for region. Oh I guess you had to be there......

    Oh yes, and as predicted in my earlier post, No1 son, voting away at Uni, didn't see any difference in colour between Buff and Violet, as his colour deficiency merges the two of them!

  38. At 10:21 AM on 05 May 2007, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Well I'm glad I wasn't voting under those systems I'd have been bound to get it wrong! It's like going back to multiple choice exam papers!

    I think having 2 different systems at the same time is a bit stupid and bound to cause confusion.

  39. At 11:52 AM on 05 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    GM (38),
    "I think having 2 different systems at the same time is a bit stupid and bound to cause confusion."

    Exactly the advice given the Executive by Electoral experts and, it seems, ignored.

  40. At 12:05 PM on 05 May 2007, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Ed - I'm glad it's not just me then!

    I've just received a 'Census Test' - a 24 page multiple choice exam to see if I'm intelligent enough to take part in the next census!!!

    Has anyone else been sent one?

  41. At 03:10 PM on 05 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    For some perspective on Labour's complaint that the SNP haven't got a mandate for independence:

    [in 2005] Labour was returned in 355 seats, 64 more seats than the other parties combined. That is 55% of the total number of seats and 47 down on their notional 2001 total. Labour’s vote share across the United Kingdom was 35.2%, down 5.5% points compared with 2001. This is the lowest ever share of the vote won by a winning party at a UK General Election. Labour’s 9.5 million votes is equivalent to 21.6% of the electorate, again a record low for a winning party.

    (paqe 13)

    A useful document.

    What the SNP do have a mandate for is a referendum. They didn't campaign on 'independence' despite the Nulab spin.


  42. At 11:10 PM on 05 May 2007, Frances O wrote:

    ??????? Gossipmrs?

    So that presumably rules out a significant section of the population from the start.


  43. At 01:00 AM on 06 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:


    For electoral comparisons the House of Commons Library has a report of the 2005 election, broken down into regions as well, with the information on page 13:

    Labour was returned in 355 seats, 64 more seats than the other parties combined. That is 55% of the total number of seats and 47 down on their notional 2001 total. Labour’s vote share across the United Kingdom was 35.2%, down 5.5% points compared with 2001. This is the lowest ever share of the vote won by a winning party at a UK General Election. Labour’s 9.5 million votes is equivalent to 21.6% of the electorate, again a record low for a winning party.


    Saturday May 05, 2007 at 18:13:16 GMT
  44. At 09:56 AM on 06 May 2007, DI Wyman wrote:

    ....has anyone seen the advert in the appointments suppliment of the Builders & Plasters Gazette?

    ...wanted brickies, needed for forthcomong contract by Hadrian & Sons (Construction - Borders) Ltd.

    Good rates of pay, some new build and general repointing. Recruiting now...also needed general site operatives for groundworks required to prepare the way, possible 4 year contract.

    apply Dept DEV(N), Hollyred Mansions, Livingstone.

    Previous applicants need not apply....:)

  45. At 10:03 AM on 06 May 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Does anyone know what the turnout was for the elections on Thursday? I imagine it was higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK.
    How low would the turnout have to be before the result was deemed invalid? Has there ever been a figure set for this eventuality? I personall feel that there should be.

  46. At 11:09 AM on 06 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Gillian (45),

    Just under half of those registered to vote participated in the 2003 Scottish election. At 49.4% the proportion of the electorate casting a valid vote (on both the first and the second vote) was just under nine percentage points lower than it was in both the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999 and the last UK general election in 2001 Link to document

    I have seen a figure of 53% overall form 2007, but can't confirm that. It seems some areas had as high as 60% and others as low as 50%. Apparently, the decision to hold the two elections simultaneously was with the intent of raising turnout for the local government part.

    Turnout among the under 35s has been worryingly low and declining. It does seem that this time it was better, probably due to the 'real' choices on offer.


  47. At 11:37 AM on 06 May 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Ed I (46) Thanks for that Ed. I agree wholeheartedly with the points you make in your last paragraph. I think that 'real' choices also accounts for the fantastically high turnout in France recently.

  48. At 12:58 PM on 06 May 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Hi Gillian,

    The document I linked in (46) is worth a trawl if you've got an interest in the demographics of the 2005 election, and although it isn't directly comparable with the Scottish Parliament election, there are insights to be gained. Loads of coloured maps of UK showing the distribution of strengths and weaknesses for all parties.

    I'm interested to see what happens if never-concede NuLab decide to challenge their 48 vote loss in a constituency with over 1000 spoiled ballots. I suspect they are checking out how many analogous challenges they might face from SNP...

    A time of speculation. Actually, the new situation is close to my ideal - no two parties able to command a majority and the greens in the catbird seat. I will miss the lost greens and trotskyites and true socialists (they had proportionally more women than anyone). I have personally known the true survivor for the Greens for over 25 years, He's a good'un, as is our Tory constituency MSP; despite his adamant unionist sentiments, we have much in common.

    On top of that, should independence eventually come, the SNP will fragment before the next election, and the disparate smaller parties who lost votes to them will be revitalised and I suspect an independent Scotland will never see a one or two-party coalition in power.

    That would be my ideal. Less bad law, less ill-considered poilcy, more truly local expression, and perhaps a revitalised and de-centralised Local government structure, perhaps even down to village level.

    Dream on, eh?

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