Have your say on electoral reform

Credit: Flickr.com/secretlondon123

Priscille Biehlmann
Writer

Elections matter, and voters should have a say in how they work, according to the Scottish government.

The government has launched an online consultation survey to ask citizens for their opinions on proposed reforms to election laws. It says it will use the results of the online survey to draft policy.

“Modernisation takes place across all aspects of society and now is a good time to think about the kinds of innovation people in Scotland would like to see in elections,” the government said in a paper introducing the consultation.

The issues raised in the survey range from straightforward questions about term lengths for MSPs to more technical questions about the role of the Electoral Management Board.

The survey also asks citizens to offer their opinion on whether voting rights should be extended to all legal residents in Scotland. Under current legislation, all British, EU and Commonwealth citizens aged over 16 have the vote in Scotland, but residents who come from other countries do not.

“Scotland has led the way internationally by lowering the voting age to 16,” the government said. “We now seek to extend the opportunity to vote to all who are legally resident in Scotland. It seems only fair that those who have the right to live here, whether from EU countries or elsewhere, have the right to vote.”

Another proposal up for debate discusses whether the order of the candidate names listed on the ballot should be randomised. Some have argued that the current method of systematically listing names alphabetically disadvantages candidates with names at the end of the alphabet – though others say randomising the order of names would only confuse voters.

The government is also using the survey to gauge public opinion about online voting – an initiative which offers the possibility of increasing voter turnout but also poses potential cyber security risks.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said several hundred voters have already participated in the consultation since it went live in December. Voters have until 12 March to complete the survey online.

The last time major electoral reform was considered in the UK was in 2011, in a referendum on replacing first past the post with an alternative vote system. The referendum was widely regarded as a failure, with only a 42% turnout. Nonetheless, 68% voted against the changes.