Councils take urgent action so Scots without postal ballots can vote

Two Scottish councils have taken urgent action to ensure people who have not received postal votes can still have their say in next week’s General Election.

Edinburgh City Council and Fife Council have taken the unusual step of setting up emergency centres where residents who have yet to receive their ballot can have one reissued, or can even cast their vote ahead of July 4.

It comes as Scottish First Minister John Swinney said he is worried some Scots will be “disenfranchised” by delays in receiving their postal votes due to school holidays beginning north of the border.

The Electoral Management Board for Scotland has already said there have been “many difficulties experienced with the delivery of postal votes” across the country.

Demand for postal voting has grown considerably in recent years and there have been reports of voters not receiving their ballots when expected.

In response to the situation, the City of Edinburgh Council announced that it is taking “urgent steps”.

Those voters who have not yet received their postal votes can go to the City Chambers and have their voting pack reissued.

A booth has also been set up for those who wish to cast their vote there and then. They can then place their envelopes with completed ballot papers in a postbox outside.

A similar facility has been set up at Fife House in Glenrothes.

Voters are being reminded to bring photographic identity with them to use the facilities, which are open during the day over the weekend.

SNP leader Mr Swinney had already accused Rishi Sunak of being “disrespectful” with his decision to hold the election at a time when most schools in Scotland have finished for the summer and many families will be on holiday.

SNP leader John Swinney is worried about problems with postal voting in Scotland.campaign 2024
John Swinney said he was worried when the General Election was called that it was in the Scottish school summer holiday (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The First Minister said: “About 25% of the electorate now vote by post, I don’t know what proportion of postal voters have or have not received their ballot papers.”

He added: “The day the Prime Minister called the election I expressed my concern this election was going to take place during the Scottish school summer holidays, and various people criticised me for making that comment.

“But here we are, just as I feared we would be, that people leaving Scotland on their holidays have applied for postal votes, haven’t got them through, and it is not in any way shape or form a surprise to me that that is the case.

“I just think it is a deeply unacceptable situation that people will be disenfranchised because the calling of the election has been done at a time which is quite inconvenient for a lot of people, lots of schools in Scotland are already on their holidays, and we’re a week away from polling day.”

Returning Officer for Edinburgh, Paul Lawrence, said: “I appreciate the concerns of voters on this issue and my absolute priority is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote in this General Election.

“That’s why we’ve taken the decision to put in extra resources and open the City Chambers this weekend.”

He told people: “Please only attend if you haven’t received your postal vote and you’re going on holiday or won’t be at home next week.”

Mr Lawrence added: “The timing of this election has been challenging as have other circumstances beyond our control, but our teams are working hard to ensure it passes off as smoothly and successfully as possible.”

He said it is a “concern throughout the UK and throughout Scotland”, but the decision had been made because local schools broke up on Friday and many families are going away at the weekend.

Mr Lawrence said: “It’s a long time probably since there’s been an election in the school holiday time, which does mean that things like postal votes, getting them printed and so on, getting them distributed, has its particular challenges. The thing for us is having awareness of what’s happening.

“There is a printing and distribution network, lots of things are done from a central point, which may be efficient and effective but it does mean the amount of time to get from a central point through to not only Scotland but, of course, remote areas, rural areas – it does make that challenging.

“Some of my colleagues have called for review of the printing and distribution network. I think that’s a sensible thing to have a look at after this General Election. The ones we’re getting are printed down south and distributed to Scotland.”

The Association of Electoral Administrators believes it is unprecedented for a returning officer to have to invite postal voters to have replacement packs issued to them.

It said postal votes are expected to top 10 million at this General Election, a 20% rise from 2019, and up from just 937,000 in 1997.

Chief executive Peter Stanyon said: “Unfortunately for voters, returning officers and their teams, the volume of postal vote applications appears to have overloaded the system. We’ve warned for years this could happen as volumes have continued to grow while supplier capacity remains the same.

“We will continue to call for electoral law changes that mean postal votes can be sent out earlier, and Returning Officers are given more ability to help postal voters.”