Response 303292636

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How Often Elections Should be Held

1. Do you think the term length for the Scottish Parliament and local government should be:

Please select one item
Ticked 4 years
5 years
Other length (please specify)
If other, please specify:
Electoral terms in Scotland should be four years as it allows the public a reasonable ability to hold politicians accountable for their actions. For the last several years, the Fixed Term Parliament Act at UK elections has resulted in a de facto term length of five years for the Scottish Parliament but the fact of the 2017 UK General Election has demonstrated that fixed terms are not immune to desynchronisation and schedule clashes. It will always be possible for a snap election, governmental clash or similar unforeseen effect to impact the timings. Whilst the Scottish Parliament is legally sub-ordinate to the UK Parliament it remains extremely unlikely that a clash would be corrected by bringing forward or delaying a UK General Election (especially if the snap election which triggered the clash was initiated in that place). The same likely would be true for local elections with respect to Scottish elections. Electoral clashes may be made rarer by fixed term arrangements but are always going to remain a feature of multi-level parliamentary politics therefore the procedure for dealing with them must remain robust. It does not make sense to mold the Scottish democracy around a dysfuntional Westminster democracy therefore formally setting the Scottish parliamentary term lengths to match the UK term lengths is not recommended.

2. Do you have any other comments or suggestions on term lengths?

Comments or Suggestions
As term lengths increase, the opportunity to hold representatives accountable decreases. Options to redress this including public-initiated censure or election recall procedures should be explored.

Who Runs Elections and How They Are Run

3. Do you agree that the Electoral Management Board and the Board’s Convener should be given the same functions in relation to Scottish Parliament elections as they already have for local government elections?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No

4. Do you have any other views on the future role of the Electoral Management Board?

Any other views:
Regularising statutory functions will simplify regulation.

6. Should the role of the Returning Officer become part of the job description of local authority Chief Executives? (This is not currently the case and would require renegotiation of terms and conditions.)

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

7. Do you have any other comments or suggestions about who should have the role of Returning Officer or how Returning Officers should be paid?

Any other comments:
No specific view.

8. Do you agree that candidates’ addresses should not be required to appear on ballot papers for local government elections?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No

9. Do you have any other comments to make on this issue?

Any other comments:
Disclosure of candidate addresses may now constitute a significant security risk not just at the time of election but afterwards as even candidates who are unsuccessful now have their address published as a matter of public record but may not be able to take advantage of the security measures and training available to elected officials.

10. Do you agree that, in order to counteract the list order effect, a change should be made to the way in which candidates are listed on election ballot papers?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No
Please select all that apply
Ticked Rotation
Randomisation
Alphabetical-reverse alphabetical
Any other (please specify)
If other, please specify:
A rotation order ballot would be the most effective method method of mitigating this effect. It should be noted that it, alone, will not eliminate the tendency of some voters to vote for the first ordered candidate(s) but will simply distribute the votes evenly across all candidates.

11. Do you have any other comments to make on this issue?

Any other comments:
The list effect is likely to be more prominent in more local elections where candidates are less well known, less strongly attached to national political party platforms (and more likely to stand as independents). Full randomisation of ballot order may, however, make it harder to find a voter’s desired candidate from the longer lists that these local elections tend to generate which may introduce. A rotational cypher would have the effect of ensuring that the top candidates on any given ballot paper are equally represented (thus the impact of the list effect will be spread evenly across all candidates without bias) but the overall candidate order would remain in a set order to aid identification. By this method, candidate Aardvark is no longer more likely to be the recipient of list order effect votes than candidate Zebra but voters can easily find candidate Newt by scrolling one step past candidate Monkey. The downside of this (and the random order) method is that bias will only be eliminated if the cypher results in an equal number of each combination of ballot and that those ballots are distributed randomly. Testing could be done well in advance of the election at the point of printing the ballots to ensure an appropriate distribution of each variation of the paper. Testing election results against first order vote frequency will be logistically intensive but necessary to ensure that the method is working as intended. There may also need to be regulations put in place such that if an anomaly is discovered, it can be dealt with appropriately.

12a. Voting Machines: Would you be happy to use an electronic voting machine in a polling place instead of a traditional ballot paper?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

12b. Would you like voting to be possible on more than one day?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

12c. Would you like to be able to vote at any polling place in Scotland?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

12d. Do you have any other comments?

Any other comments:
On Q12a - No - With the caveat that it depends on the method used for electronic voting. See Q13d. On Q12b - No – Single day voting highlights the importance of the vote. Multi-day voting runs the risk of “I’ll do it tomorrow” becoming “I won’t do it at all”. Multi-day voting will also compound the logistics and costs of the election at least in proportion to the number of days over which the election takes place. We should consider moving the voting day to a Saturday or Sunday if this will increase turnout and reduce disruption to schools and workplaces. On Q12c - No – The ability to vote at any polling place would greatly compound logistical challenges (as ballots may need to be returned to their “correct” place to be counted) and may increase the opportunity for fraud in the form of multiple voting. This should only be considered as an emergency method – similar to emergency proxy voting – when someone cannot make it to their regular polling station for extraordinary reasons such as extreme weather, travel disruption or Madrid-style central government oppression of democratic expression.

13a. If internet or mobile phone voting was available, would you choose to use that rather than vote at a polling place or by post?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

13b. If internet or mobile phone voting was available, would you be more likely to vote?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No

13c. Would you like voting to be possible on more than one day?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

13d. Do you have any other comments?

Any other comments:
On Q13a - No – Remote electronic voting is far too vulnerable to coercion, subversion, hacking or other fraud to be used in national elections. It may, however, have a place in consultative polls or referendums. On Q13b - Yes – It may increase voter frequency but the chance that such remote electronic voting could be compromised is far too high. All forms of remote voting (conventional or electronic) are vulnerable to coercion. Even if individual voter ID is securely used, a remote vote cannot ensure that the person casting the vote is the person who registered to do it (who actually filled out the postal vote form or pressed the vote button on the app?) nor can it ensure that the voter is isolated from outside influence when they vote (is someone standing behind them and “assisting” their vote?). On 13c - No - See Q12b Further Comments - Only a few possible attack vectors are possible with traditional pencil-and-paper voting. These can include deliberate miscounting (which is mitigated by the presence of witnesses at the count), ballot boxes arriving at the poll “pre-stuffed” (mitigated by witnesses verifying that a box is empty prior to sealing and/or by transparent ballot boxes), interception and misdirection of boxes (mitigated by impartial escorts staying with the boxes at all times and by checkpoints during the transit stages), or sabotage of ballots by erasing marks, or voiding or destroying papers (mitigated, again, by witnesses at the count and by cross-tallying of votes cast versus votes counted). Even coercion can have limited impact for in-person voting as there is no way for another person to verify how the voter actually voted in the booth. Almost all of these attack vectors have the additional advantage of a small effect size. Ballots may only be sabotaged one at a time and ballot boxes may only contain a few hundred votes. Under electronic voting schemes, these calculations begin to look very different. There is no possible way for the voter to verify that the software underlying the electronic voting machine in front of them has not been compromised. Even if Open Source software is used and can be fully scrutinised and even if this could be practically done inside the ballot booth via a “check source code” button (so that individual voters don’t need to rely on the word of a contracted checking company), there is no way to confirm that the code presented would be the one actually run. “Clean” code may be presented for the check whereas compromised code may be run “behind the curtain” during the actual vote casting – this is reminiscent of recent scandals involving car manufacturers cheating vehicle emission tests via a hidden engine mode which only activated in laboratory conditions. If the ballots are transmitted electronically to be counted then there exists the possibility of the transmission being intercepted, blocked, subverted, hacked or otherwise altered. Examples exist of failures of electronic voting ranging from “innocent” errors of machines erroneously adding votes to or subtracting votes from candidates, through machines mis-registering votes up to investigations into the outright remote hacking of entire networks of ballot machines. If a hostile entity could compromise the network in this way then the effect size could be to rig or alter every vote cast (or even add votes not cast) and there may be little way to verify that this had not happened. One possible way of verifying an electronic election could be by printing an encrypted receipt which would allow the voter to verify that their personal vote had been counted as they had cast it but would also allow anyone to count all of the votes cast without being able to identify who had cast them without the individual receipts. An attack which changed cast votes after voters have left the polling station could be uncovered if people reported their personal votes had been manipulated. However, this method comes with its own vulnerability. If someone owns a receipt proving their vote, then their personal anonymity could be compromised. This may be a particular concern for people trapped in abusive relationships or who were members of organisations held a private intention to vote against that organisation’s wishes or ideological position. A compromise solution may be a receipt system which allows a voter to verify that their vote has been logged and counted but without revealing how they voted. A similar method of encrypted verification may lie within the blockchain technology which underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. This would effectively tie a voter’s (encrypted) ID to each vote and could provide a check against the digital equivalent of ballot stuffing by protecting against the illegitimate insertion of additional votes. However, the use of this technology in this way is still very experimental at scale and already shows signs of potential vulnerability. Quantum Computing may well render many conventional encryption methods obsolete within a few years or decades and theoretical quantum attacks on blockchain have already been published (requiring only that quantum computers reach a capacity and speed threshold before being successful). Counter-measures to these attacks are being or may be developed but future as-yet-unforeseen attack vectors will surely be developed and the continuous need to fight an arms race to ensure that voting remains secure may well be pointless given that conventional pencil-and-paper voting is already secure against such attacks by definition. Well made points are raised that electronic voting booths may improve accessibility by allowing choice of language or accommodation for visual or other impairment and that an electronic ballot may allow confirmation steps to ensure that ballots are correctly marked (a particular concern in more complicated voting systems like AMS and STV). However the concept that it may be easier to implement list randomisation on an electronic system may be affected by the vulnerabilities mentioned earlier. It may be difficult to verify that the randomisation cypher has been applied correctly until after the election which, if a compromise has been detected, may be more complicated to resolve – especially if it calls into question the result of one or more close election. There may be a place for electronic assisted voting whereby the ballot machine presents the voting options and confirms that the vote is valid before submission but in no circumstance should the vote be stored, counted or electronically transmitted from that machine. The ballot should instead be printed out and given to the voter for verification and to place in a ballot box from where it would be later counted by traditional means. It is acknowledged that this system would likely not result in cost savings compared to pencil-and-paper voting but it would maintain the security of that system. This method would also reduce the likelihood of tampering with ballot papers and of papers being misread by counting officials or counting machines (if used).

14. Do you think that we should move to a rolling programme of reviews of local government electoral arrangements?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No
Any other comments:
Rolling reviews would likely mean different electoral frameworks occurring between neighbouring constituencies. All elected officials operating at the same level of government should be working to a unified framework.

15a. Should Scottish Ministers be able to change the recommendations of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland on Scottish Parliament constituencies and council wards?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

15b. Should the Scottish Parliament be able to challenge the recommendations of the Boundary Commission on Scottish Parliament constituencies and council wards?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No

15c. Should the recommendations of the Commission be implemented without change?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No

15d. Please comment on your answer.

Please comment:
On Q15a - No – Giving Ministers the ability to make changes could open the path to gerrymandering. Instead, the scope of the Boundary Commission could be expanded to allow them to take into account decisions that Ministers may be considering but which the Commission cannot currently act upon. There may be scope to introduce a tripartite system of representatives drawn from the Commission, the Government and the voters who live in the area being reviewed. On Q15b - Yes – But only to clarify how decisions have been made. On Q15c - No – A tripartite and consensus based approach involving the Commission, the Government and voters affected by the proposed changes would be the preferred option.

16. Should the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland be allowed the flexibility to recommend wards which have between 2 and 5 councillors, instead of 3 or 4 councillors as at present?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No
Comments
Answer recorded as No as our view is mixed. The proposal for islands to be able to elect 1 or 2 councillors is a compelling one – certainly the geographic challenges of the Highlands & Islands are very different from that of the Central Belt. One should consider, however, that the proportionality of the present electoral system of STV used in regional authority elections changes depending on the number of seats being elected. Two wards of two seats may produce different results from one ward of four seats (larger wards have a tendency to be more favourable towards smaller parties and vice versa). For reasons of diversity and proportionality, the number of representatives elected to each wards should be increased. Better yet, further initiatives should be made to restore functioning local democracy to communities in place of the near-powerless communities councils currently in place in some (not even all) areas. If the number of seats per ward is to be changed then there must be a serious discussion about the impact that would have based on notional polling results. It may even be that STV is not an appropriate voting system for regional elections and that other voting systems would allow better representation of areas which may be affected by the proposed seat changes. Ultimately, it may be decided that the advantage of a small island population having a dedicated representative may outweigh the disadvantages of any particular voting system. The island communities themselves should be the final arbiter over whether or not they are allowed to elect a representative from their island.

Who Can Register and Vote

17. Do you agree that the franchise should be extended to include everyone legally resident in Scotland?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No

18. Do you have any views on how long should someone be resident in Scotland before they become eligible to vote?

Comments:
The term should be as short as practical – probably concurrent with the time required to become eligible to be in receipt of social security or to be issued a tax code/National Insurance number.

19. Do you have any other comments to make on this issue?

Comments:
We live in a world where the delineation between “legal resident” and “citizen” is becoming increasingly blurred. Those who are resident in Scotland are affected by the decisions here, use public services, pay taxes and – in many cases – receive social security. They therefore should have the right to affect or influence those decisions. As a matter of principle, it should be stated that those with a legal right to residency in Scotland and have established significant ties here should have a right to vote.

20. Do you think that we should make it easier for individuals who may be at risk from any form of abuse to register anonymously, whilst maintaining the integrity of the electoral register?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No
If this is an area in which you are particularly interested, we would welcome your views on our more detailed proposals.
The utility and benefit to protecting the safety of vulnerable people and maintaining their rights to democratic participation far outweigh any risk of integral compromise to the electoral system.

21. Should a voter be allowed to register in more than one local authority area?

Please select one item
Yes
Ticked No
Comments:
Extending the franchise to allow multiple registrations based on property or business ownership would discriminate against those who do not own such property but who nonetheless commute or otherwise split their lives across electoral boundaries. If someone qualifies for registration in more than one constituency then they should select only one.

22. Do you agree that a voter should only be allowed vote once in local government elections in Scotland?

Please select one item
Ticked Yes
No
Comments:
The principle of “One Person/One Vote” should be maintained. Extending the franchise in this manner would cut through the heart of democratic fairness and grant undue power and influence to those who would qualify for multiple votes.

Accessibility of Voting and Elected Office

23. What other action could the Scottish Government take to widen access to and remove barriers to voting and elected office?

Comments:
One potential issue for voting access is the continued reliance on opt-in registration and the link to the voter’s address. This can prove a barrier to young people (particularly students) and to homeless people or people with transient addresses. It may be possible to investigate making it easier for a voter to access their information as held by the electoral register and for items like address to be quickly updated and polling station updated. This information could be linked to the voter’s National Insurance number or similar “citizen identifier”. “On the day” registrations where someone can register to vote at what would be their appropriate polling station on the day of the election would be beneficial to people who may have changed address very shortly before an election (though systems would have to be put in place to avoid double-voting fraud caused by someone making multiple on-the-day registrations, for example). The government could also place more emphasis on messaging with instructions on how to register and how to vote in each election (with clear instructions on the voting system and method of voting). On voting days, everyone who has registered with a mobile phone and/or email could be sent a message with a reminder to vote and instructions on when and where they can vote. It may be worth investigating an opt-out system of voter registration which automatically tracks voters as they change address and circumstances although this may be considered overly invasive. Compulsory Voting would not be recommended as the freedom to vote in an election is only a freedom if it is coupled with the freedom to abstain although a formal “abstain” or “None of the Above” option on the ballot paper would be a welcome move with or without compulsory voting as it allows voters to register displeasure at their candidate selection without forcing them to submit a “protest vote” and to distinguish themselves from those who simply did not wish to take the time to vote.

24. As well as the arrangements below, is there anything else that could be done to increase the accessibility of elections?

Comments:
Postal and Proxy votes are the voting methods currently most open to fraud or compromise. As with electronic remote voting, it is not possible to adequately protect against coercion or to maintain voting anonymity. Whilst specific laws exist to forbid, for example, political activists “assisting” voters with filling out their ballot form, these laws rely on infringements being reported in order to be enforced. Further, even if voting itself is not compromised, it is possible for important and influential statements to be made during the campaign after the postal votes have been issued. This means that postal voters can potentially find themselves in the position of having changed their mind on their vote after they have posted their ballot but before voting day and being without any way to redress this problem. However, the accessibility argument for allows postal and proxy votes is important and it is vital that the right to democratic representation for those without mobility or ability to get to the polling station on polling day is protected. For security reasons, postal and proxy votes should be discouraged and minimised – possibly restricted – for those who have the means to get to a polling station but this should not infringe on the rights of those who are genuinely not able to go to a station to receive a postal vote. In certain cases, it may be possible to assist voters with limited mobility to enable them to get to a polling station. At the moment, transport to stations is sometimes offered by individuals or by political parties but there is limited facility organised for this on an official level. This is perhaps something which could be considered to increase accessibility. Accessibility may also be improved via the use of mobile polling stations which can be taken to places such as nursing homes or assisted living communities. This could be trialled without significant changes to the current voting system. On-the-day voting registration – by which someone may register to vote directly at their polling station by presenting photo ID and a proof of address – would greatly increase accessibility – especially for first-time or infrequent voters and for students or other people who changes addresses frequently. The voter registration list can be used by councils or private companies for purposes other than checking eligibility to vote (such as part of a credit check). There have been reports of potential voters avoiding registering for fear of being tracked and prosecuted for council tax arrears or historical actions such as non-payment of the Poll Tax. Whilst one should not encourage tax avoidance or non-payment of arrears, using this particular method of tracking people is obviously disenfranchising and harmful to the democratic process and therefore it would improve voter accessibility if access to the registration list was forbidden for any purpose other than for checking eligibility to vote.

25. How can the Scottish Government best support gender balance in those elected as MSPs or local councillors?

Comments:
The role for the Scottish Government to mandate how political parties select their candidates may be quite limited. Nor can the fact be escaped that nationally gender balanced candidate lists are still subject to local electoral results. The Scottish Greens entered the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election with a gender balanced list but the eventual results created a highly gender skewed parliamentary group. This is not to say, however, that there is no role for the Scottish Government in understanding the underlying causes of gender balance and working to correct them. This is an area of increasing international attention with studies and potential solutions and aids at every stage of the electoral process now well established and available for consultation. Finally, there is a significant point to add that the gender balance in politics is strongly tied to the lack of opportunity to stand for elected office in Scotland. Most other European nations have a significant and functioning local tier of government below that of regional authorities which can be used by those outside of the “political classes” to gain the confidence, experience and skills required to subsequently stand for regional and national elections. The unjustifiable centralisation of politics in Scotland is harmful in many ways and the lack of opportunity for women to access elected office is just one symptom of it.

About you

What is your name?

Name
Craig Dalzell

Are you responding as an individual or an organisation?

Please select one item
(Required)
Individual
Ticked Organisation

What is your organisation?

Organisation
Common Weal Ltd