October 26, 2007
140,000+ ballots tossed in UK due to ‘avoidable errors’
The scale of the disenfranchisement in recent elections in Scotland is breathtaking … 146,000 voters had their ballots discarded because of errors in marking the paper. To put this into perspective, this is the equivalent of the entire population of a mid-sized American city. The number of voters in Scotland whose ballots were simply tossed is roughly equal to the residents of Pasadena, CA, Hollywood, FL, Kansas City, KS or Eugene, OR. It’s a truly amazing perspective that the dry figures alone don’t begin to express. [Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108676.html%5D
And there is no real apology from the architect of the disaster, just some remarks about lessons learned. [Note: the complete story can be found at http://tinyurl.com/2gcxsf]
“I really am sorry if people were denied their vote because of decisions that people made and because of any failure of administration …
“I acknowledge the Scotland Office’s role in the overall process and can say now that we have lessons to be learned from the systemic failures that occurred.”
said Scottish Secretary Des Browne, representing the British Labor Party government of Gordon Brown. But members of the two leading opposition parties saw it somewhat differently.
David Mundell, the shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “This is an election that saw more than 146,000 rejected ballots as a result of a catalogue of avoidable errors, failures of oversight and a fragmented approach to the management of the elections.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen added: “Organising the Scottish Parliament elections was one of the few significant tasks that the generously resourced Scotland Office has had to do over the last few years and yet the majority of the failures highlighted in this report were its remit.”
One would think that a do-over would be called for — having a new election so that more than 146,000 would have the opportunity to make their voices heard. But, sadly, no, that is not the outcome. There was an official investigation and an official report on what went wrong but the results of the flawed election stand. Just as in the U.S., when there is blatant error and proven disenfranchisement, the results of the election are allowed to stand. At least the Scots got an official government inquiry with recommendations for changes — this is more than Ohio voters in 2004 got — or Florida voters in Palm Beach with the infamous “butterfly” ballot in 2000. And then there were the 18,000 “undervotes” in the Jennings-Buchanan race in 2006 in Florida.
It seems that bad ballot design leading to voter confusion is something that is found on both sides of the Atlantic. The difference is that in the UK there is an official government inquiry and a list of changes to be adopted that would prevent future problems. This is far better than the “blame the voter” approach and lack of official investigation on this side of the pond.
But it still would have been better to have had a re-vote.
For those inclined to read the original report, the results of the UK government inquiry can be found here: Official Report on Scottish Election