Friday, 20 September 2013

Independence Referendum could see repeat of local poll chaos

Polling arrangements that caused chaos at last year’s local government election will remain in place for the Scottish Independence Referendum if councillors back the recommendations of Council Chief Executive Elma Murray.

In a report to be presented at this week’s Council meeting (September 18), Ms Murray indicates the local authority is required by legislation to “undertake reviews of polling districts and polling places,” with the aim being to “ensure that electors have such reasonable facilities for voting as are practicable taking account of local circumstances”.  The Chief Executive, who is also the Electoral Returning Officer for North Ayrshire, goes on to recommend that “To assist voters and for the purposes of consistency it is proposed, subject to any operational requirements, that the Polling Scheme put in place for the Scottish local elections held in May 2012 should be used for both the European Election and the Independence Referendum,” which will be held next year.

Ms Murray’s recommendation comes despite her acknowledging in a previous report, from June 2012, that the Council Election saw problems at Polling Places in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston.  At that time, the Chief Executive vowed “lessons learned will be taken forward to future electoral events.”

In May 2012 the3towns reported some of the concerns raised by the public regarding the polling arrangements Ms Murray apparently now wants to retain for the referendum on Scotland’s future.  Many Ardrossan residents found themselves being told to vote at a Polling Place being used for the first time at the Council Election - St Peter’s Primary School in South Isle Road - despite their homes being closer to the long-standing Polling Place at the Whitlees Community Centre.  Others who had voted at the Whitlees for many years were re-allocated to the Civic Centre in Glasgow Street.  Meanwhile, residents of Greenacres and the Knockrivoch estate had to cross into Saltcoats to vote at St Anthony’s Primary School.

With regard to problems in the Saltcoats & Stevenston Ward, Elma Murray’s report of June 2012 recorded, “The main issue arising...was that 472 voters in the newly created polling district N409, who would previously have voted at Hayocks Hall in Stevenston, were directed to vote instead at the Focus Centre, Saltcoats.  Whilst the Focus Centre was closer to the majority of voters in the polling district, feedback was received from a few candidates that some Stevenston voters objected to being directed to Saltcoats to vote, and others were not aware of the change.”

Council Election figures for Saltcoats & Stevenston revealed that, of the 13,354 people entitled to vote in person, just 3,861 (28.9%) did so.  In Ardrossan & Arran a total of 11,897 people could have voted at Polling Places, but only 4,294 (36%) ballots were cast.

Representatives of political parties manning Polling Places in the Three Towns at the Council Election reported numerous cases of people turning up to vote, only to be told they had come to wrong place.  Understandably, many decided to return home without voting rather than make their way to a different Polling Place, some of which were in another town.

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