Proportional Voting in Scotland

On May 3, 2007, Scotland held local and national elections under two methods of proportional voting. Voters used choice voting (called “single transferable” in Scotland) to elect local councils and a mixed-member proportional system to elect the Scottish Parliament.

Hosted by Britain’s Electoral Reform Society, FairVote organized a team of two-dozen election monitors including members of the democracy community, state and local election administrators and elected officials and FairVote board and staff. FairVote director Rob Richie’s comments on the elections were reported widely.

The election drew controversy due to a ballot design flaw in the parliamentary elections that led to a tenfold increase in invalid ballots, but proportional voting worked exceptionally well. Had the Parliament been elected under winner-take-all, Labour would have won an absolute majority of seats despite winning fewer votes than the Scottish National Party and only 29% of the list vote. Choice voting was a big success in bringing fair representation to local government and had a far lower rate of invalid ballots.

In fact, a post-election review conducted by the U.K. Electoral Commission indicated that the problem was in ballot design issues having nothing to do with proportional representation. The key section in the review is excerpted below:

"The report concludes that there is very little evidence to support the argument that the simultaneous local government election using STV contributed to the higher rejection rate in the Scottish parliamentary election. The evidence points instead to the combined Scottish parliamentary sheet as the cause of the problem...."

"The analysis of the face of the images of the rejected ballot papers provided strong evidence that combining the Scottish parliamentary ballot papers onto one sheet was primarily responsible for the high level of rejected ballot papers. For this reason the report recommends that the interests of voters would be best served by printing the regional ballot paper on a separate sheet from the constituency ballot paper, regardless of whether future elections are separate from or combined with local government elections." Scottish Elections Review 2007, U.K. Electoral Commission.

Read FairVote's research report

Other links

[ FairVote's Rob Richie blogs for the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network ]
[ Rob Richie in the Scotsman ]
[ Scotsman on the successful use of choice voting ]
[ Scotsman on report faulting ballot design ]
[ More on choice voting ]
[ More on mixed-member systems (see "Districts plus") ]

[ Scottish voter education video ]

Articles on Scotland
June 24th 2007
Ballot paper design at fault for record number of spoilt votes
The Scotsman

Researchers determine poor ballot design caused high rate of vote spoilage in the May 2007 Scottish Parliament elections under mixed member proportional voting.

May 11th 2007
Never mind the ballots, what's the verdict on STV?

Scotland's local council elections under choice voting saw low error rates, fair results and a focus on candidates, not parties.

May 10th 2007
Letter: A call for fair representation
The Guardian

Without proportional voting, Labor would have won a majority in the Scottish Parliament with not even a third of votes, notes FairVote board member and UK Electoral Reform Society director Ken Ritchie.

May 6th 2007
Election chaos unacceptable, say observers
The Scotsman

Sky-high error rates in Scotland's May 3 elections resulted from poor ballot design and inconsistent administration, according to FairVote director Rob Richie.

November 3rd 2006
Reversing voter apathy
The Herald

Education on the the new electoral system is an important part of selling single transferable vote (STV) to voters in Scotland.

October 1st 2005
Scottish Greens sowing the seeds for 2007 elections

Scottish Greens look forward to positive election results under Scottland's new system of proportional representation.

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