Will the changes to Scottish election law gives us a data bonanza?

The main change to election law this summer has come with the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, but Parliament has also approved the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Act 2009.

The primary purpose of the Act is to change the cycle for Scottish local elections, so that in future they will not be held on the same day as Scottish Parliamentary elections. Instead, the next round of local elections is being delayed by one year – from 2011 to 2012 – and the local elections will then run on a four-year cycle from there.

Also in the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Act 2009  is a new provision to publish much more information about election results:

(1) The Scottish Ministers may by order make provision as to the publication of information about votes cast at elections of councillors.

(2) Such an order may, in particular –
(a) specify information to which the provisions shall apply,
(b) make provision about access to information to facilitate publication,
(c) specify limitations on the publication of information,
(d) make provision relating to votes cast in part of an electoral ward.

In other words, there is now the power for voting breakdowns by polling district (or other sub-ward level unit) to be published. With STV it’s unlikely that full results will be provided on a sub-ward level, but even so this is good news for confidence in election results. That is because official information being published at polling district level means that if there is any very surprising election result there is more scope to track back to the cause of it and so help work out if it’s due to dodgy behaviour, faulty counting – or the will of the electorate.

It’s a common feature of American elections, for example, for faulty counting machines to be caught by oddities being spotted in the detailed breakdowns of results.

With STV and electronic counting in place in Scotland, this is a very welcome measure of reassurance if the powers are now used – plus of course it would provide electoral geeks with lots more data to pore over.

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