Scottish Referendum Fraud - unlikely.

There are a number of YouTube videos and petitions calling for a recount or a revote on Thursday's Scottish Independence Referendum alleging widespread fraud.

I have been responding to these on Facebook but find myself typing the same thing over and over again.  My view is that this the most meticulous conducted ballot I have witnessed. 

Let me explain a few things.  Parties to the election (those putting up candidates or in the case of this referendum campaign groups) appoint Polling Agents and Counting Agents.  I was each for Scottish Greens (Yes) in Aberdeenshire.   Across Scotland there were thousands for Yes and No groups plus there were international observers and observers from the Electoral Commission roaming about. 


Inside each Polling Place (the building) are one or more Polling Stations.  At each Polling Station there is one and only one ballot box.  For this election each Polling Station served something less than 1000 people - at least in Aberdeenshire so widespread queues were unlikely. 

Polling Agents can, if they wish, watch everything going on in the polling place from start to finish:  They can turn up at 7am and check that the ballot box starts out empty.  They can stand and watch every voter being issued with a ballot paper and putting it in the box.  They can watch the box being sealed at the end of the day.  And they can follow the van taking it to the count and watch it being unloaded.  The boxes are accompanied with a small sack of paper - stubs of ballot papers, the marked register, etc - all the paperwork you'd have seen at a polling station. 

It's unusual for anyone to actually do this. Usually Polling Agents dot in and out. 

Polling Agents also check that there isn't anything in the Polling Place which shouldn't be - e.g. literature from the other side and that voters are not hassled by the opposition (tho that is strictly the job of the Presidening Officer and the Police).

Outside the Polling Place, you may find representatives of campaigns.  They must stay out of the Polling Place while wearing/ displaying any propoganda and they shouldn't interfere with voters in any way.  But they can ask people to identify themselves (you don't need to give this information) and can answer questions.   If they are collecting details of who has voted, this is so that those people are not called upon later in the day to ask them to go and and vote (known as knocking up).

There is always more than one polling clerk/presiding officer at each polling place and they to some extent check up on each other.  For anything to go wrong, here would need collusion of presiding officer, polling clerk and polling agents.   

Postal Votes

For postal votes, these are collected over a longer period and kept securely.  Periodically, a batch is opened and the signatures checked against the application.  Bundles of papers from that batch are then put in sealed ballot boxes to await the count.   Counting Agents can turn up and watch all this. 

The pictures of neat bundles of ballot papers being taken out of ballot boxes are these postal votes - all ready verified: a known number of papers in each box.

At the Count

At the Count, the paperwork is first checked and then the ballot box is opened and the number of papers inside checked against the number of ballot papers issued.  Lots of the videos showing Yes being put under Noes are really this first verification count.   Counting agents watch this process and you often see them making a tally of the ballot papers,  If any box (and remember this is from a known location) has an unusual split of votes, the Counting Agents should notice at this point. 
Counting agents will know the total number of ballots in each box - and hence the total number of votes cast if these are all added up. 

Sometimes there aren't the same number in a box as was issued.  But I've never seen a difference of more than one.   Sometimes there is a polling card (the card telling people where to vote) in the box - perhaps someone took the ballot paper home by mistake. 

The ballot papers are then put in one big pile and each station is given a known number to count.  They then divide the papers into Yes, No and Dubious.  The Counting Agents watch this and check that piles contain only Yes, No and Dubious.  They may make a representation about where any individual paper should be put - but in case of doubt they go to Dubious.  This is why is much easier if people just put a X in the box. 

The total number of Yes, No and Dubious must match the number of papers the table was issued with.  They will check and check until this is true.   Counting Clerks sometimes flip throuugh bundles of votes just to do a quick visual check that they contain only Yes or only No - it's quite easy to spot a stray ballot of the other side as we are good at pattern recognition.   

The Counting Agents will know how many Yes, No and Dubious come out of each table.  They can add it all up to make sure it matches the total number of ballots.   

Dubious votes are taken to the Returning Officer and they, in consultation with the chief representatives of the Counting Agents, decide whether these are spoilt (and for what reason), or whether they should count for Yes or No. 

Fraud : Personation

At polling stations, the Presiding Officer and Polling Clerk, know who has been issued with a postal vote.  So if these people attempt to vote in person, they known there is a problem.  In case of a postal vote not reaching someone, the Returning Officer can issue a duplicate because the checks made on returning postal votes are through.   But this is something that needs to be sorted out with the overall Returning Officer not at a polling station. 

If someone is marked as having already voted and someone else turns up and tries to vote claiming they are that person, then a criminal offense may have been committed - called personation.  The second person turning up will be held at the polling place and their identity checked.  If they are who they say they are, they will be allowed to vote.   And, because there is a number on the back of each ballot paper which is logged against each voter, the fraudulent ballot paper will be found and removed (for evidence!).   Personation used to be common in Northern Ireland which is why ID is required to vote there.  In the rest of the UK is it so rare that this check is not deemed necessary.  I understand that 10 cases are under investiagation in Glasgow.  Out of millions: that is tiny.  With such a high turnout, personation will be detected.  It is less likely to be detected in a low turnout election. 

In the ideal would, the Polling Agent or Polling Clerks would be sufficiently embedded in the community to be able to say 'Hang on - you're not Debra Storr' and nab fraudsters before they vote.  My local Polling Clerks know me, of course.   This isn't easy with large populations.   Returning Officers will use local people - and the same local people - as Polling Clerks.  In small rural polling places, this informal verification works.  In larger places, it can't : one reason why I prefer many small polling places.  

Any questions?


  1. What about the lad who had a pen in his hand and looked around to ensure noone was looking then made his move.
    What about the female standing looking down, with her head in her hands, and her back to a large container while another female opened a box, took the papers out and put them in the large container.

    1. If you're talking about the people who appear to be marking ballot papers at the count, there's an explanation for that: they're writing on post-its. In Edinburgh (I can't speak for anywhere else) the usual practice is to sort votes into bundles of 50 at each stage - first for the initial tally, then later when sorting them - immediately after it has been counted, each bundle is wrapped with an elastic band and stuck with a post-it, on which the person counting writes "50" and their initials. This shows that the bundle has been counted and allows the counters at the table to tell which person has counted them, so that when they are counted for a second time it is done by someone else at the same table. As for why someone would look around first? He's doing a repetitive task, in the middle of the night, in a big room where there's a lot going on - people's minds wander. The trolleys used for moving ballot boxes can be noisy, or maybe he saw somebody bringing in their tea and sandwiches, or he heard a voice he recognised; there are lots of things that can be distracting.

  2. Thanks for some common sense and objectivity ��

  3. Anonymous: I have tried to explain the process. I haven't sought to look at every video/photo. I haven't seen one of these with a proper statement of who took the images, and exactly where. If there was an issue and someone saw it, why was it not reported through the Agents system at the time?

    There should have been Agents watching all stages. If there was someone there to photgraph/video, there will have been (except the Polling Stations where photos and video are prohibited).

    If you have full details of any particular issue, then email me the details. I'll not publish unverifiable claims here.

    1. Can you explain witness reports of questionable behaviour by officials at the count? I know that the police are facing a deluge of reports from counters and observers

    2. Interesting.
      Now there were no complaints at the Aberdeenshire count - I was there to the end.
      And I've a long list of friends and acquantancies such that I would be astonished if I didn't know someone at almost every count.
      And I've not heard a peep from anyone.
      Can we cut the second and third hand reports please?

    3. Anon; how do you know that the Police are being 'deluged' with complaints? Because someone on the internet repeats such a claim? Some healthy scepticism is in order here.

  4. Very informative.

  5. I went to my polling station years ago and asked if I could use a pen, I was told NO, this time I went along and was told YES, did the rules change over time or what?, and can't pencil be rubbed out and a cross put in the opposite box by someone else, why are we still useing pencils in this day and age.

    1. They use special indelible ballot pencils - they're made by a company called Shaw's -

    2. Thanks so much Richard. I had heard wax penciils but couldn't trace this as I was writing. It's great to get definitive help.

    3. The grease pencils described in that sentence on Wikipedia aren't the sort used in polling stations - the ones used are in effect indelible pencils. (You can always take a paper towel with you next time you go to vote and try it out!)

    4. Thanks for explaining this; I've always wondered why pencils are used at polling stations, and now I know.

  6. Debra, you haven't watched the videos? If you're going to write an article on vote fraud, isn't it worth looking at the videos first? They are only a minute long.

    Why is photography prohibited at polling stations? What has anyone got to hide? I'm sitting in a cybercafe now with 10 cameras. There are cameras in the streets, in pubs. But NOT in polling stations. This is not standard practice in other countries. In Taiwan, they have cameras in every classroom when they count votes. For a country that boast about democracy, our voting systems are wide open to scamming and behind the times.

    The truth will out.

  7. I have not published two comments: one queried what was being said by an Anonymos and therefore didn't add to the discussion and one contained a link to more unverifiable claims of fraud relating to the electoral register which is beyond the scope of this post.

    Re pens/pencils and cameras..

    There was some fuss made about this prior to the ballot. Pencils are used for the practical reason that they always work. If papers somehow get wet, they are still readable and it's actually hard to rub out without leaving a trace.

    I gather than as there was some concerns raised about this prior to the vote, polling clerks were advised to let people use their own pens if they wished.

    There is a problem with doing this. If you say decided to be silly and used four different coloured pens to make each arm of the cross, it is likely to be pretty distinctive.

    One of the rules is that ballot papers must not show any mark that could identify the individual. This harks back to an era when there were far fewer electors than now and paying people to vote a particular way was common. In order to check that payment was due, electors were asked to make specific marks on the ballot paper. But even now to avoid intimidation working what people do inside the polling station is secret - which is why cameras and videos are not permitted.

    Pencils are pretty uniform - and while there are in practise a range of crosses, ticks, combinations of the two and even Smiley faces actually accepted, the principle of trying to keep the face of the ballot paper uniform holds.

    A simple pencil and a cross works.

  8. Oh - and I said I hadn't watched ALL the videos. I've watched several and people I respect have made it their business to watch more. I can never know that I have seen everything. But there are lots of the same video spammed everywhere.

    1. The Labour party stated that Scottish people are not genetically programmed to be able to think politically, I would like to know when Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs are resigning? Johanne Lamont should not be allowed to continue in her role after that statement. Labour got into bed with the Tories and procreated; unfortunately it's the same as treason. It has no's a case of they did or they didn't. There are 3 parties who will never be able to get representation in Scotland again. The effect of unintended consequences. Scottish Parliament have been made aware of the allegations, reports & footage. By 2016 every MSP will be an SNP minister and this episode will be remembered as the joke that it was. We do still remember Westmonster ministers running up here quaking at the thought of losing the Golden Goose. It was only last week. We do remember a man, who has nothing to do with politics since he was ridiculed and called 1 of the worst politicians ever, was the person they chose to speak to our population. We do remember that David Cameron point blank refused to debate with Alex Salmond. We do remember that Ed Milliband refused to debate with Nicola Sturgeon. We do remember that they were falling over themselves to break their promises made to us. What you and your cronies are unaware of is that this problem has not been resolved. Already SNP membership has risen to heights that in the next day will dwarf the LibDem membership, UK wide. You folks have awakened a monster and in doing so, you have driven vast numbers of no voters to the SNP. I think they call that an own goal.

    2. Dear me.
      I have published the above rant which is the type of rather unstable thinking that prompted me to write this post. There was no conspiracy to fraud and those who persist in thinking there was do no service to the caus eof independence or indeed democracy.
      I am proud to live in a country where elections are free and fair. We often take this for granted.
      I won't publish further such nonsense.

  9. I have just had one comment in that is not relevant to the above discussion that I have chosen not to publish. Sorry Anonymous. BTW : I feel worse about not publishing comments if they are from an identifiable individual.

    Can I remind people to stick the the point polling and counting fraud?

    I'll try to find time to write something about electoral registration and identity fraud.


  11. Debra...this a very very concise and accurate post. Thank you

  12. Thanks for writing this - I have shared it around. Hopefully it'll prevent a lot of wasted energy. I was interested in what goes on outside the Polling place.

    Outside the Polling Place, you may find representatives of campaigns. They must stay out of the Polling Place while wearing/ displaying any propoganda and they shouldn't interfere with voters in any way. But they can ask people to identify themselves (you don't need to give this information) and can answer questions. If they are collecting details of who has voted, this is so that those people are not called upon later in the day to ask them to go and and vote (known as knocking up).

    On the day I was involved as a campaigner outside a polling place and with knocking up. We witnessed at least one Labour activist hand out unsolicited campaign material near to a couple of polling places in our neighbourhood. Her leaflet said "Don't take the risk - vote NO." When this activity was reported the advice was that she could do it as long as she was on public property and not within the boundary of the polling place. Is that right or is there a specified distance within which you have to respect the rules? I looked around for an authorative guide to the rules, but didn't find it.

  13. Thanks - do share. There are some crazy conspiracy theorists about but sensible people are going 'Oh - now I understand'.

    Inside the Polling Place (and some are the building and some are the building and grounds) the rules are strict. But once out on the public pavement, anything goes. So the response you was right.

    Bad practise tho' - but that is my ethics not any rule.

    If in doubt, report to the Presiding Officer (which is why its handy to be a Polling Agent so you can freely go inside yourself).

  14. There are a significant number of people on facebook claiming they were having to vote on ballot papers which were totally blank on the back. Should not all the ballot papers have had a barcode and other identifiers on the back? Would all the ballot papers be uniform throughout Scotland?

  15. Thanks for this Debra. It carries more weight coming from the 'YES' side of the campaign. I would have thought that if there was any compelling evidence of this vote being "rigged" then surely Alex Salmond would have been the first to flag it up!

  16. I'll do a new post on blank ballot papers. I've tried to be factual here but the level of conspiracy and the wilder accusations being thrown about merit a post of itself.

  17. Hi, my gripe is that all parties (as relayed by Ruth Davidson on election night) were present at sequential postal vote openings prior to sept18. I understand the principle of this, but surely it is the process that should be monitored and the 'competing' parties are not privy to the nature of the votes, let alone be able to tally them. Can you reassure even justify this. Thanks in advance.

  18. Lionel, thanks for those kind words.
    I think it rather sad that my blog should be thought to carry more weight as it comes from Yes. I would hope that all democrats - and we all have a stake in maintaining democracy - would work to ensure a fair ballot regardless.


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