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Rejected ballot papers in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election: The voters’ perspective


Although there were a number of other administrative problems, the unusually large number of ballots rejected in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections attracted considerable media interest and comment and provoked a special enquiry by the Electoral Commission. It is generally accepted that the new design of the ballot paper was the major factor in causing problems and that these problems were greatest in less well-off areas. So far, however, little attention has been paid to the views and perceptions of electors, especially with reference to the question of the legitimacy of elections. Analysis of specially collected survey data shows that the voters recognised that there were serious problems in the elections and, although offering a variety of explanations, tended to blame the authorities. Trust in the fairness of the electoral process has been reduced by the experience and this may result in reduced voter participation in future.

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  1. 1.

    On the day after polling, newspaper headlines included ‘The worst poll debacle in the history of British democracy’ (Scotsman, 5 May 2007) and ‘Who is to blame when everyone involved says it's not their fault?’ (The Herald, 5 May 2007).

  2. 2.

    The study was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council (REF. 000-22-2256) and was directed by the present authors plus Professor James Mitchell and Professor Charles Pattie of the Universities of Strathclyde and Sheffield, respectively. To obtain further details on all aspects of these surveys, to read the questionnaires and to download the data, visit

  3. 3.

    The Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party each contested only one constituency whereas Solidarity and the Socialist Labour Party contested none.

  4. 4.

    There was evidence that this occurred with respect to Green Party supporters in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election. The correlation between Green share of the list vote and percentage of ballots rejected at constituency level was +0.322, which indicates a positive and statistically significant relationship.

  5. 5.

    In the 1992 general election, for example, across all British constituencies (N=634) there are significant positive relationships between the proportion of ballots rejected and per cent ethnic minority (0.520), per cent with no car (0.301) and per cent council tenants (0.108).

  6. 6.

    Carman et al (2008) discuss this in more detail, and provide images of the different ballot papers.

  7. 7.

    The second, post-election, wave of the SES was in the field between 4 May (the day after the election) and 10 May.

  8. 8.

    The basis for this decision is the observation in previous studies that the proportion of respondents choosing the highest point on the scale tends to match actual turnout quite closely.


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Correspondence to David Denver.




Table a1 Stepwise multiple regression analyses of % ballots rejected in constituency and list contests (standardised beta coefficients for significant variables only)

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Denver, D., Johns, R. & Carman, C. Rejected ballot papers in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election: The voters’ perspective. Br Polit 4, 3–21 (2009).

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  • elections
  • Scottish Parliament
  • rejected ballots