New Zealand and Singapore used as inspiration for Holyrood 2021 election contingencies

Planning for a Covid-19 affected Scottish Parliament election took inspiration from New Zealand and Singapore, it can be revealed.

Both the New Zealand and Singapore election systems were used as inspiration for contingency planning for Holyrood 2021.
Both the New Zealand and Singapore election systems were used as inspiration for contingency planning for Holyrood 2021.

New documents show the Scottish Government contacted members of the New Zealand Electoral Commission and examined measures introduced in Singapore as part of their research into a potentially Covid-19 affected election.

This research, undertaken as early as July, has come to light following a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government on its plans for the Holyrood elections in 2021.

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Scottish Government officials took lessons from New Zealand’s delayed parliamentary elections, which eventually led to the re-election of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden.

The antipodean country’s delay of the election was of specific interest to the Scottish Government as it explored options for the May elections.

In a bill published last week, the Scottish Government committed to passing legislation that could see the Holyrood election delayed by up to six months by the Presiding Officer, as well as the potential for an all-postal ballot and the potential for the poll to be over more than one day.

Among the other options examined by the Scottish Government include so-called ‘takeaway voting’, which was used in New Zealand.

This is where someone is authorised to collect ballots from a polling place and take them to someone who is otherwise unable to travel to a polling place, if they were self-isolating or for other health or disability reasons.

The ballots would then need to be returned to the polling place by 7pm on election day.

In email correspondence released to this newspaper, this was described as “interesting” by officials, but did not make it into the final proposals in the bill.

Singapore’s election process, including its powers to allow the returning officer to delay an election within three months of the dissolution of parliament, was also looked at by officials.

In the end, the Scottish Government decided to introduce a new power to allow the presiding officer to delay for six months if Parliament is not able to do so.

On Thursday, MSPs heard coronavirus pandemic voting should be “significantly safer” than going to the supermarket.

Malcom Burr, the convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, told the committee: “We must remember we are running by-elections at present in a safe environment.

“Polling places will be safe, they will be regulated environments.

“I would argue, even in a level four area, a polling place would be a significantly safer environment than say a supermarket.”

Parliamentary business manager, the SNP’s Graeme Dey, said the contingency legislation was being introduced to ensure the election is conducted safely.

He said up to 40 per cent of the votes cast in the election could be postal votes and plans are in place to meet that demand.

Mr Dey said the Scottish Government could decide to extend the voting period if those organising the ballot decide it is “advisable”.

In such a scenario, he said it is “most likely” votes would be cast on the Thursday – the day elections are traditionally held in the UK – and the following day.

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