Britain Votes: EU voters barred from poll stations

Election Bungle
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SOME VOTERS from other European countries were turned away from Scottish polling booths yesterday because of confusion over voting rules for the new parliament.

Of the four million people registered to vote in yesterday's Scottish elections, some 17,000 were citizens of other European Union countries.

As polling began sluggishly in heavy rain across much of central Scotland, some electoral officers were forced to contact polling stations to clear up misunderstandings.

The Act which introduced the new parliament made clear that EU citizens were allowed to take part in yesterday's national election as well as in local ballots, even though people from other EU countries cannot vote in general elections.

The problem came to light after a Danish man was turned away from a polling station in Edinburgh. John Rasmussen said the polling officers had two documents, one showing the rules correctly and another simply saying EU citizens could not vote in parliamentary elections. "There is no document stating we are clearly entitled to vote in this election. If all polling stations don't have that message, people will be refused their civil rights," Mr Rasmussen said.

Alex Thomson, deputy returning officer for Edinburgh, said his staff had tried to contact Mr Rasmussen to ask him to come back to vote. "Just in cast there are problems and there are people interpreting the rule in that way, we are phoning around polling stations to make sure everyone understands," he said.

Some returning officers said the problem arose because of a government document which said simply that EU voters could take part in local elections. Officials in Edinburgh, East, Mid and West Lothian and the Borders were being telephoned to alert them to the problem after the incident during the morning. In Glasgow, a spokeswoman for the city's electoral registration office said a small handful of EU voters had rung in to say they had experienced problems. "There does seem to be this bit of confusion. Because people think they can only vote in local government elections, they are only giving them that paper," she said.

A press officer for the council later added that he was not aware of anyone actually being turned away. "All our presiding officers have been advised of this. We have had two or three calls and have been able to clear up any misunderstanding immediately," he said.

A Scottish Office spokesman said there should be no reason for mistakes to happen. "In our discussions with returning officers it has always been clear that these people were part of the register. That has always been the intention, and our publications have said that. If people are resident and eligible to vote, they can do so."

Yesterday cloud and rain descended over the central belt which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh, raising fears of a low turnout.

Frank Sibbald, secretary of the Scottish branch of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said that in general, all went smoothly.