Response 859892898

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Questions

5. Do you have any comments on the practicalities of prisoner voting?

Do you have any comments on the practicalities of prisoner voting?
Practicalities of prisoner voting 7. Consultation questions 5 and 6 invite comments on the practicalities of prisoner voting. We offer the following comments. Eligibility criteria 8. The consultation document (page 15) states that “prisoners would be registered to vote by declaration of local connection to a previous address or local authority rather than the prison address”. We agree broadly with this approach. If eligible prisoners were registered to vote at the prison address, this could mean that registered prisoners make up a significant proportion of the electorate in the ward where the prison is located. 9. As prisoners are only present at the prison address as a result of their sentence, an alternative option based on a previous address or local authority, or an intended address, would be preferable. 10. An existing category of electors who are not living at their usual UK address are service voters. The appendix to this response outlines the process for registering service voters. A similar approach could be replicated for registering prisoners. 11. Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) will need to be able to establish whether a prisoner is eligible to register, as it is possible that not all prisoners will meet the eligibility criteria. 12. The consultation paper states that the registration process will be largely paper based – recognising the lack of access to internet and limited telephone calls afforded to prisoners. We note that the consultation document (page 15) states that “prisoners wishing to register to vote will need to submit a paper form to an ERO to register”. A specific ‘application to register form’ should be developed for prisoner voters. 13. If EROs need confirmation of the length of sentence, or other details of a sentence, to help them to establish an individual’s eligibility to register, this could be provided through some form of attestation. The level of prison staff who could attest these applications could be prescribed, as it is for certain police ranks in relation to anonymous registration. The prescribed level should be low enough that the registration process is not reliant on too few people but high enough that the attester will be aware of who can and cannot register, and would carry sufficient authority. 14. There is a risk that prisoners won’t have access to the information required in order to verify their identity as part of their application to register to vote, such as their national insurance number or any other documentary evidence. Careful consideration should therefore be given to ways for prisoners to verify their identity so that they can register. The method by which prisoners would cast their vote 15. The consultation document (pages 14 and 15) indicates that prisoners will not be entitled to vote in person and will instead only be able to register to vote by postal or proxy vote. Given the challenges of setting up polling stations within prisons, we agree that absent voting options are more practical to implement. Currently prisoners on remand are only able to vote by post or proxy. 16. There is a relatively short window between the issue of postal ballot packs by Returning Officers and the deadline for returning a completed postal ballot in time for it to be counted. The Scottish Prison Service would therefore need to ensure that their current arrangements for processing prisoners’ mail would enable prisoners to receive and return their postal ballots within the necessary timeframe. 17. If prisoners are able to vote by proxy they should not be required to have their application attested, as is already the case for overseas and service voters. This is because by nature of being in prison the voter has a sufficient reason for not being able to attend their polling station. Cross-border issues 18. As residence is one of the main criteria for registration, careful consideration will have to be given to any cross-border issues where these might arise. Information provision 19. If certain categories of prisoner in Scotland are allowed to vote in Scottish Parliament or Scottish Council elections, it will be important to ensure they know that they can vote and how to register and cast a vote. We would expect to work with Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to explore how an awareness programme for prisoners would be delivered to enable this. 20. Prison officers would need to be trained so they can support prisoners, and signs on voting rights and how to register to vote and vote could be displayed in relevant areas of the prison. Prisoners who are disabled or who have any learning difficulties should be able to receive help to complete forms if they ask for it. We would be happy to explore with the Scottish Prison Service the practical steps they could take to support prisoners to vote, and provide advice on the materials that they could use to raise awareness. Access to campaign arguments 21. If prisoners are eligible to vote at Scottish elections, they must have access to information about the policies of candidates, parties and other campaigners so they can make an informed decision when they vote. The Scottish Prison Service will need to consider how this would be delivered. Young voters 22. The franchise for Scottish Parliament and Scottish Council elections extends to 16 and 17 year olds. The needs of young prisoners should be considered carefully to ensure they have the information and support they require to register and cast their vote without undue influence. Integrity issues 23. Scottish Government should work with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure that existing safeguards are extended to allow prisoners entitled to vote to complete their postal ballots in secret and without undue influence. We agree postal voting packs should be treated as “privileged correspondence”.

6. Do you have any other comments that have not been captured in the responses you have provided above?

Do you have any other comments that have not been captured in the responses you have provided above?
Any legislation required to implement changes to the franchise for Scottish Parliament or Scottish Council elections to include prisoners in Scotland should be clear at least six months before it is required to be complied with. This would give Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) sufficient time to plan and implement any changes. Consultation questions 1 to 4 seek views on option 1 or possible alternative approaches. We do not take a view in relation to these questions. How the franchise might be extended to prisoners in Scotland is a policy matter for Scottish Government and for the Scottish Parliament to legislate upon. Example of an existing special category of elector – service voters The current process for registering HM Forces personnel as service voters is an example of a system used for registering a specific group of people who are not living at their usual UK address. HM Forces service voters complete a service declaration which states either the address where they are living in the UK, the address where they would have been living if they are serving abroad or, if they do not have either, an address at which they have lived in the UK. The application to register as a service voter is prescribed and differs from the standard registration application form. All applications to register are processed by the ERO who determines if the applicant is entitled to be registered. If they are, information on postal and proxy voting is generally provided to them as they are likely to be unable to vote in person. In the case of service voters, each unit of the services has a designated member of staff who acts as the Unit Registration Officer (URO). Each base commander gives assistance to the URO and other personnel in their unit to promote participation in the electoral process. HM Forces service voters are listed as ‘other electors’ on the register when they no longer have a connection to their qualifying address.

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