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Election / Candidates share their views on postal voting

THE NUMBER of local people registered for postal voting at the forthcoming election to the Scottish Parliament has now reached 4,000, and is expected to rise further over the coming weeks.

A number of candidates have voiced at least some concern that the increased number of people expected to vote by post could, potentially, shorten the time available for campaigning.

In the light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic postal voting has been encouraged but polling stations will also be open on the 6 May election day between 7am and 10pm with appropriate hygiene and physical distancing measures in place.

Anyone wanting to register for postal voting has to do so no later than 5pm on 6 April by contacting the electoral registration office via this website: http://www.orkney-shetland-vjb.co.uk or by e-mailing ero@shetlandgov.uk

SNP candidate Tom Wills said the chances are that many people would vote well before the 6 May.

“An unprecedented number of people in Shetland have registered for a postal vote, which is a good thing: it’s the easiest and safest way to vote, and turnout is higher among postal voters,” he said.

“Some postal voters may well decide to vote as soon as they receive their ballot papers, in just over a month. So as far as I’m concerned, the campaign starts now.”

Labour’s Cameron Thompson agreed that postal voting would shorten the time available for campaigning, but he does not think it would have a major impact on the outcome of the election.

“Someone who receives their ballot, fills it in, and then sends it off right away is likely to be someone who won’t change their mind based on a couple of weeks of extra campaigning,” Thompson said.

“We would like to encourage people to register for a postal vote, and welcome an increase in the number of people who vote by post, especially in the current pandemic as this will make it easier for people to take part and will eliminate the need for people to get lifts or use public transport at a time where the health and safety of the public is of the utmost importance.”

The Scottish Greens’ lead candidate for the Highlands and Islands list, Ariane Burgess, said there was no need to fill in the postal vote as soon as they receive them in the post.

“The Scottish Greens would like to see as many people as possible vote in this election. We have been actively encouraging people to register for a postal vote as this will make it easier to vote and ease the work of polling station staff on election day,” she said.

“While people registered for a postal ballot will receive them from 14 April, they don’t have to fill them out straight away. We’d encourage people to take their time to read the manifestos and gather the information they need to make their minds up.”

UKIP’s lead candidate for the Highlands and Islands list Robert Stephenson said: “It is indeed a concern that many voters will shy away from the polling stations owing to the Wuhan flu and opt instead for a postal vote, thereby shortening the available campaign period.

“However, with the vaccination programme gathering apace while cases continue to fall, we might well see fears dissipating and more than expected queuing up to vote on 6 May. Nevertheless, UKIP is prepared for all eventualities and we will be sure to get our message out to secure the support of early voters.”

All postal votes have to be received by the returning officer by 10pm on 6 May, so postal voters will have to make sure they get their ballot paper in the post in time.

People have two votes in the forthcoming election – one for the Shetland constituency candidate, and a second for a party on the Highlands and Islands list. Some parties such as the Scottish Greens and also UKIP have decided not to field a constituency candidate in Shetland but instead focus on getting a candidate elected via the list.

To vote in Scottish Parliament election people have to be 16 years and over and registered to vote at an address in Scotland. Foreign nationals who have permission to enter or stay in the UK continue to be entitled to vote in Scottish elections.

To register to vote go to: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Note: All candidates were contacted with a request to submit their views. Not all had responded by Friday afternoon.