Scotland politics

Independence referendum: Thursday or another day for the ballot?

Ballot box
Image caption Would voting on a weekend increase turn out?

Tuesday 27 October 1931. The last date a general election was not held on a Thursday.

Thursday is election day, but why? Moving polling to the weekend has been mooted as a way of drumming up voters.

In 2008 the Electoral Commission published a consultation paper pointing out that there was little evidence to support this claim.

Just as there are problems getting people to vote on a weekday, so too are there problems on a weekend.

For starters, weekend transport could become a problem for those from rural areas trying to get to polling stations via public transport.

People also go away for short breaks on weekends.

And there are obvious religious issues; if the polling day is officially set on a Sunday the vote would likely have to be spread over two days to accommodate people abstaining on religious grounds.

Postal vote

Willie Sullivan, director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: "Not many people get public transport to vote, apart from perhaps people from the Highlands. And there are things like postal votes if people live in rural areas.

Image caption The 1918 general election was the first to be held on a single day

"People just feel like they have more time to do things on a Saturday and if you're a parent, a weekend vote would mean you wouldn't have to find childcare during the week. Is it really necessary to close schools on a weekday?"

"It could also increase turnout. In research we've done in the past, election day becomes much more of a celebration of democracy if it's done on a weekend."

There is no legal problem with a vote being held on any day other than a Thursday.

But the UK does seem to have an affinity with Thursday as voting day. European elections are held on a Thursday in the UK, the ballot boxes are then sealed and not opened for the count until the rest of Europe votes on the weekend.

It's tradition

General elections used to be held over a period of weeks, then came the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

Not only did this abolish almost all property qualifications for men, it enfranchised women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications and, importantly, started the present system of holding general elections on one day.

These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million.

The first general election on one day was 14 December 1918. A Saturday.

So what changed? One theory has it that people were not paid until Fridays and so holding polls on Thursdays ensured they were not too drunk to vote. But there doesn't seem to be any precise reason why Thursday is the day.

Scotland's independence referendum will be no general election, but what's certain is that election day will be chosen with an eye on getting as many people to the ballot box as possible.

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