Celtic warnings over AV poll date

With controversy about the Government’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill rumbling on, voices from the devolved administrations have expressed their concern with the planned timing of the vote.

Wales’ Chief Electoral Officer has declared it “vital” that the Welsh public have full confidence in the electoral system, ahead of next year’s elections.

The comments, by Ian Kelsall will once again raise concerns about the problems that could be caused by holding on the same day votes for the devolved institutions and local councils, a referendum on the Alternative Vote, and a Wales-only ballot on further powers for Cardiff Bay.

In 2007, the Scottish Parliamentary Elections were marked by scenes of chaos as voters were faced with multiple ballot papers, each under a different system.

In the latest warning, Kelsall concludes:

“Next year voters in Wales will have several opportunities to have their say at the ballot box.

“It’s vital that they have confidence in the electoral process and the UK Government addresses some of the areas where change is needed.”

His remarks come as over 40 Conservative MPs signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM 613) expressing their concern that the proposed date of the AV referendum would clash with the elections to the devolved bodies. In doing so, the motion cited Electoral Commission advice in 2002, which made clear its unease at holding referendums on major policy issues on the same day as other polls. Among the concerns it raised was a warning that:

“There is a risk that the dominance of the referendum issue would influence other polls to an extent that may compromise the electorate’s will in those other polls.”

Meanwhile, the Interim Electoral Management Board for Scotland has written to both Nick Clegg and Scottish Secretary, Danny Alexander to express its concerns at holding a poll on AV at the same time as elections to Holyrood. In particular, the board warned:

• Holding a referendum on AV would need to be administered based on Westminster constituencies, while polling for Holyrood elections is administered based on different boundaries. This could mean some people having to cast their votes at two separate polling stations.

• Under current law, the elections would also have to be treated as two separate polls, requiring two voting cards and two lists of eligible voters.

What is more, following the chaotic scenes that followed the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, the report into the fiasco, drafted by Ron Gould cautioned against combining more than one poll in two days (p. 114 – 115).

Responding to the latest developments, Shadow Scotland Office Minister, Ann McKechin said of the ConDem coalition:

“It is an act of disrespect not to have even thought about the consequences for Scotland.”

Speaking in the House of Commons however, Nick Clegg said that it was “disrespectful” to suggest that voters “could not make two different decisions at the same time.”

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