Scottish Prisoner Voting Arrangements

Scottish Prisoner Voting Arrangements

Howard League Scotland was disappointed that the overwhelming majority of MSPs chose to apply a blanket ban on voting for convicted prisoners in the forthcoming independence referendum. However, there are nonetheless a number of prisoners who will be entitled to vote: those held on remand, civil prisoners and those imprisoned for defaulting on the payment of fines, as well as prisoners who are likely to be released just prior to the referendum date.

Last month, we wrote to the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service to ask what arrangements they intend to put in place to assist these individuals. We identified three distinct groups who will have the right to vote on 18 September, but who will not be able do so unless steps are taken to assist them, namely:

  • those on remand, who can vote by post or proxy;
  • those who are in prison before the vote, but who are expected to be released in time, but who may not yet be registered to vote; and
  • young people who have never been registered, particularly 16 and 17 year olds,  who will either be on remand or released in time to vote.

We wrote to seek an assurance that the Scottish Prison Service, in partnership with the electoral authorities where necessary, is now taking steps to ensure that all these groups are receiving the assistance they will need in order to be able to vote on 18 September, and an outline of the action which is planned.  We understand that voters will be able to register until 2 September and that the deadline for applications for postal or proxy votes is 3 September. 

We received a response from the Director of Strategy and Innovation on 17 June. We were very encouraged to hear that work is underway by the Scottish Prison Service, in partnership with the Electoral Commission, to prepare guidance for the referendum and to ensure that those in prison who are entitled to vote and those likely to be released in time to vote in the referendum will be given information to enable them to exercise that right. We are also very encouraged to note that this issue has been discussed at recent meetings of the electoral authorities.

It is important that those currently in prison who will be entitled to vote are given appropriate information and assistance to do so. We welcome the efforts made by the Scottish Prison Service and the Electoral Commission to make this provision.

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