Call for return to overnight count in council elections

SENIOR politicians are calling for a return to the overnight counting of votes in this year’s council elections despite an apparent determination by officials to delay the result until the next day.

In the last three council elections, there was no choice but to count votes the next day because they coincided with the Scottish Parliament elections, which had to be counted first.

Now the elections have been “de-coupled”, the counting of votes in the council elections could start immediately after the polls close on May 3.

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However, a consultation paper published by the Electoral Management Board for Scotland – made up of election officials – highlighted issues, including the “major risk” associated with the use of electronic counting, which have to be taken into account. It says: “Operating these systems at 10am would be preferred to doing the same at 3am.”

But Lothians MSP and former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie said there was no good reason to delay the count. He said: “Whether it’s UK elections, Scottish Parliament elections or council elections, the returning officers always want to postpone the count to the next day. This has been a habitual issue.

People want to know the result and get on with forming the administration. The sooner the result is known the better.”

Former Labour Lord Provost Lesley Hinds also backed an overnight count. She said: “My preference would be to have the count done as quickly as possible. There is not going to be a majority for any one party, so there is going to have to be discussion before an administration can be formed. The quicker we get the result, the quicker we can get on with that.”

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The Electoral Management Board consultation on the timing of the count, published just before Christmas with a closing date of January 6, was limited to election officials, the Electoral Commission, the political parties panel, the leadership of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and representatives of the media.

Mary Pitcaithly, chair of the board, said: “The EMB is seeking the views of key personnel and bodies closely associated with delivering an election as they are best placed to comment. Taking account of their feedback means the public can be more assured that their votes will be accurately and properly recorded.”

The Scottish Government said it was for individual returning officers to determine the exact timing of counts, taking account of local circumstances.