With less than two weeks to go before the independence vote on 18 September, Scotland on Sunday has learned that a formal complaint is to be made by Labour to the returning officer at East Ayrshire Council after activists discovered that at least four children in the area aged between three and 11 have received polling cards.
It has raised concerns that with a tight result expected in the referendum it could leave the system open to fraudulent votes being cast.
The issue came to light because parents raised concerns with Labour party volunteers who were out canvassing support for a No vote.
However, fears have been raised that the problem is far greater in East Ayrshire and could be an indication of what is happening across Scotland.
A similar issue was uncovered at the European Parliament elections last year in East Ayrshire but appears not to have been resolved.
The revelation has echoes of the problems which beset the 1979 devolution referendum, in which some dead people were given the vote, undermining public confidence in the result which did not meet the threshold set by the Callaghan government for creating a Scottish Parliament.
Kilmarnock Labour councillor Maureen Mackay told Scotland on Sunday that the child voter registrations were discovered when she and other Labour activists were out canvassing for a No vote.
“One father told us that he had not received a polling card but his two children aged three and five had,” she said. “We then discovered another family where the children [aged 9 and 11] had also been registered to vote.
“These families have done the right thing and informed us about it because they didn’t know what else to do, but what worries me is that there are many more cases like this in East Ayrshire where families are not doing the right thing. It is also quite possible that this is not just confined to East Ayrshire and could be happening around Scotland.”
She added: “The problem is that our voting system means that all you have to do is turn up and say where you live. There is no check to verify who you are so any votes registered with children could be used by adults.“This could be crucial with the polls suggesting that the result is going to be tight.”
Mackay said that it was “unclear” whether the problem had been caused by extending the referendum vote to 16-year-olds for the first time in British history which has meant that councils have had to try to identify a new, younger group of voters.
The issue has been taken up by Kilmarnock and Loudoun MP Cathy Jamieson, who was concerned that a problem identified in last year’s European election had still not been dealt with. “A number of constituents approached their local councillors to say that their kids had been given Polling Cards. This has been taken up with the Returning Officer. Errors do occur, but it was worrying to hear that this has now occurred twice in one household.”
East Ayrshire Council was unavailable for comment last night.