City in postal voting chaos

THE city's postal voting system has been thrown into chaos nine days before the elections.

Fifty thousand people in the Capital who have asked for postal votes have yet to receive their ballot papers after printing delays.

Two hundred council staff were being drafted in today in a last-ditch effort to ensure the papers are delivered in time.

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The council has commandeered three sports halls at Meadowbank Sports Centre for staff to stuff envelopes. Sports centre users have been called to rearrange their bookings for five-a-side football and badminton.

The hold-up has been blamed on a failure to inform city officials about changes to the design of the voting slips, and extra checks to ensure the papers are suitable for electronic counting.

The problems are understood to have affected several other local authorities across Scotland, though none in the Lothians.

The city's returning officer, Tom Aitchison, chief executive of the city council, said he hoped the action taken today would ensure postal ballot papers were delivered in time for Edinburgh voters. The papers had been due to be sent out by the end of last week.

Following the hold-up, Electoral Reform Services - the company contracted to manage the postal votes system - told officials the papers could be sent out by the end of the week.

However, Mr Aitchison said last night: "This delay is unacceptable and as a result we have taken the decision to provide the logistical support needed to ensure all postal voting papers are issued as soon as possible."

It is now hoped the papers will be posted out by the end of the day. Mr Aitchison said the hold-up was the result of a delay in the papers being delivered by the printers, Data and Research Services (DRS). The firm blamed it on a failure to tell local councils about changes to the design of the ballot papers, although it did not make clear whose responsibility that was.

The ballot papers have been redesigned this year as local authority elections are held for the first time under the Single Transferable Vote system.

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Efforts have been made to ensure the parliament and council papers follow the same basic design in order to minimise potential confusion.

However, DRS said many local councils had not been told about changes to the design of the parliament papers, meaning many had to resubmit them.

A DRS statement said: "A ballot design and text format for the Scottish Parliamentary Ballot Paper was approved by the Scotland Office, but regrettably, a significant number of local authorities were not informed of the changes to the agreed design.

"This resulted in a considerable number of ballot paper designs being submitted with differing formats, which needed to be revised.

"The outcome of this was that rather than DRS receiving all ballot paper approval by close of business on Wednesday, April 11, a complete set of correct ballot paper designs was not available until Monday, April 16."

Since then, the firm has been carrying out quality assurance tests to ensure the papers are clear enough for electronic counting.

"This has resulted in a higher volume of ballot papers than anticipated needing to be reprinted to ensure these correct standards are met," the statement said. "DRS has been ensuring that all authorities completing their own issue, and any third party organisations completing postal vote fulfilment on behalf of local authorities, have been kept informed of these delays to allow them to put in place any necessary contingency."

City council chiefs said they were not affected by the changes in the DRS designs.

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An Electoral Reform Services spokeswoman said: "There have been an unfortunate number of delays in the delivery of the ballot papers which has had a knock-on effect in terms of the issue of postal vote packs.

"We are working closely with Edinburgh City Council who decided, in order to expedite matters, they would provide further staff to complete their fill with ERS providing a management team and undertaking quality assurance processes."