The Electoral Commission

The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK

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Our response to consultation on electoral reform in Scotland

1. How often elections should be held

Question 1: Do you think the term length for the Scottish Parliament and local government should be: 4 years? 5 years? Other length (please specify)

Question 2: Do you have any other comments or suggestions on term lengths?

The Electoral Commission recognises the Scottish Government’s aim to avoid more than one election falling on the same day. Evidence from Northern Ireland indicates that the rate of rejected ballots is higher when elections to two institutions take place on the same day, particularly where two different voting systems are in use requiring electors to vote with an X on one ballot paper and vote using numbers on the second ballot paper. 1

It is important that any debate around the dominant issues at the election should take place at a time that allows the full participation of voters and campaigners. In addition to this, the Scottish Government will also wish to consider how having two elections in close proximity would affect the regulation of campaigners. For example, the impact of potentially having two regulated periods overlap for political parties and non-party campaigners needs to be considered,, including how it would affect their spending limits and ability to campaign. Should the Scottish Government decide to schedule elections where the regulated period would overlap with another election, it should consult political parties to fully understand how this would affect them.

If the length of the Scottish Parliament or local government terms was to be changed, ideally such a change should not be made during a current Parliamentary or local government term but would instead come into effect at the date of the next election. This would ensure that voters elect their representatives with full knowledge of the length of their elected term. However, we recognise that the non-coincidence of scheduled elections may not otherwise be achievable in the short-term.

1. The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland, Elections 2005

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