History, Role, Objective, Principles and Approach
The Electoral Management Board for Scotland was set up on an interim basis in November 2008 as an initiative of the four professional associations responsible for electoral activity in Scotland:
with the support and promotion of the Electoral Commission.
This interim board was the electoral community's reaction to the issues that arose when delivering the combined elections of May 2007, when the Scottish Parliamentary elections were combined with the local government elections. In particular, it was a response to the Electoral Commission’s report Electoral Administration in Scotland 2008, which in itself was the culmination of a deliberative process following those 2007 elections.We supported the regional returning officer for Scotland in the European Parliamentary Election 2009.
The EMB was set up formally under the Local Electoral Administration (Scotland) Act 2011. This Act gives the Board “the general function of co-ordinating the administration of local government elections in Scotland.”
The EMB is independent of both Scottish and UK Governments and political parties and is accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The Convener is appointed by Ministers and leads a Board consisting of Returning Officers, their Deputes and Electoral Registration Officers.
Advisors include the professional associations: the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA), the Electoral Registration Committee of the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA), the Elections Working Group of the Society of Local Authority Lawyers & Administrators in Scotland (SOLAR), and Scottish and UK Governments, and the Electoral Commission.
The EMB’s prime focus is ensuring that the interests of the voter are kept at the centre of all election planning and administration. The work of the EMB assumes the close community of electoral professionals in Scotland and accordingly the Board seeks to operate by consensus rather than formal direction, wherever possible. However, the Convener does have a power to issue directions to Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers in relation to their duties around Scottish Parliament and Local Government elections as required, and this power has been exercised in recent elections with the consent and wish of the electoral community.
The EMB has assisted in the coordination of the work of ROs and EROs in the delivery of European Parliamentary Elections, UK Parliamentary General Elections, Scottish Parliament Elections, Scottish Local Government Elections and UK and Scottish Referendums. Where the Convener does not have a legal power of direction the Board has made recommendations to achieve consistency and support adequate contingency planning across the country. Since its creation, the EMB has had an increasingly important role in promoting a consistent delivery approach, acting as a single point of contact for stakeholders and providing a source of professional expertise and support to the electoral community.
The Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020 gave the Convener of the EMB authority to make directions to Returning Officers (ROs) and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) in relation to the exercise of their functions in delivering Scottish parliamentary Elections.
The EMB’s “general function of co-ordinating the administration of local government and Scottish Parliament elections” involves two specific roles:
(a) assisting local authorities and other persons in carrying out their functions in relation to local government elections; and
(b) promoting best practice in local government elections by providing information, advice or training (or otherwise).
The over-riding goal is to ensure that the interests of the voter are kept at the centre of all election planning, delivery and administration.
With respect to specific electoral events this function translates into a single clear objective: “….to deliver a result that will be trusted as accurate.” The currency of elections is trust. Confidence in the result is fundamental to the democratic process and is predicated on confidence in all stages of the process of planning and delivering an electoral event.
The EMB shapes its work around four key principles:
- Accessibility - there should be no barriers to any voter taking part;
- Consistency - voters should have the same experience wherever they are in Scotland;
- Efficiency - electoral events will be administered efficiently; and
- Integrity - electoral events will produce results that are accepted as accurate.
The Convener, following consultation, has the power to issue directions to Returning Officers (ROs) and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) in relation to their duties around local government and Scottish Parliament elections. Where there is no power of direction, for example with respect to UK Parliamentary General Elections, the Board makes recommendations to ROs and EROs to promote consistency and support resilience. The Board takes advantage of the close and mutually supportive community of electoral professionals in Scotland. The preferred approach is to operate through a progression of consensus where possible, guidance where helpful and then direction if necessary.