Election expert Gould to lead review of Holyrood poll scandal
ONE of the world's leading election experts will head the review into the voting fiasco which marred the Scottish Parliament elections this month.
The Electoral Commission announced yesterday that Ron Gould, the former assistant chief electoral officer of Canada, would lead the investigation into the 140,000 invalid voting papers from the election on 3 May.
Mr Gould has monitored, organised and overseen elections all over the world, from the ground-breaking South African elections of 1994 to the critical Bosnian elections of 1995 and 1996.
From 1981 until his retirement in 2001, Mr Gould led and participated in more than 100 election observation missions in more than 70 countries, and advised the United Nations, the Commonwealth and governments around the world.
Ministers in both the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive have come in for sustained criticism since 3 May, when many Scots filled in their ballot papers wrongly, causing them to spoil their votes.
The design of the Holyrood ballot paper, which put both voting forms on the same paper for the first time, has been blamed for most of the problems, with other observers suggesting that the decision to hold two elections on the same day using two different systems, also contributed to the problems.
Mr Gould will examine the decisions taken to put the voting forms on the same ballot paper, the decision to hold the elections on the same day and the use of electronic counting for the first time in Scotland.
He will also look into the arrangements for postal ballots, which were also criticised, with voters in some parts of Scotland failing to get their papers in time, the role of the Electoral Commission and the number of invalid ballots.
The Electoral Commission, which has contracted the review team, stressed that Mr Gould's work would be independent.
Last week, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said that the commission was "too close" to the system that failed and suggested a figure such as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, could lead an independent inquiry.
"A routine investigation by the Electoral Commission will not be enough to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections," Mr Carmichael said.
But Sam Younger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, defended the choice of Mr Gould.
He said: "Ron Gould is widely respected as one of the world's leading elections experts. He will undertake a thorough and independent review of all aspects of the elections in Scotland, including those areas where the law gives the commission itself a role."
Mr Gould, who has not set a timetable for his review, said: "I look forward to working with all those involved in the Scottish elections to enable us to develop a clear picture of exactly what happened and why.
"Democracy depends on public confidence in elections. I hope my review will help ensure that the people of Scotland can be confident that any lessons are learned for the future."
The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the Scottish parliamentary elections, and will also look into the local elections after a request by the Executive.
A spokesman for the Scotland Office said: "The Scotland Office welcomes the Electoral Commission's announcement that an independent electoral expert will lead the review into the 2007 Scottish elections."
"Ministers and officials will, of course, lend their full support and co-operation to Mr Gould's inquiry."
Experience in the firing line
RON Gould is no stranger to controversial elections. One of his most important tasks was to oversee the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. There were huge problems with the poll, primarily because so many people were voting for the first time.
Mr Gould went on to head the mission overseeing the elections in Bosnia in 1995 and 1996. These were key parts of the Dayton Peace Accord, but the country had only just come out of a bloody and destructive civil war which made the elections difficult.
He also worked for the United Nations, in Mozambique in 1994, Cambodia in 1991, Guatemala and Honduras in 1985 and 1990 and Algeria in 1997. The Bulgarian election assessment in 2006 would have been relatively easy, as would monitoring the 2003 Northern Irish elections, the US election of 2004 and the UK general election in 2005.
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