Holding the Holyrood election as planned in May will not be safe, accessible or fair, a trade union has warned.
Unison representatives have written to Scotland’s Local Government Secretary Aileen Campbell outlining “serious concerns” about the safety of workers and volunteers at polling stations and vote counts.
The Scottish Parliament election is due to take place on Thursday May 6, although MSPs have passed “prudent and responsible” legislation allowing it to be delayed if necessary.
In the letter to Ms Campbell, Unison expresses dismay that the current guidance does not mention the safety of the workers involved on polling day, and warns many sites used for voting have either been turned into coronavirus testing and vaccination centres or are “unsuitable” because they would not allow for social distancing.
“Unison has serious concerns regarding the conduct of these elections given the impact of Covid restrictions and the safety of our members who would be expected to facilitate them,” the letter states.
It also sets out issues about the legitimacy of an election held while coronavirus restrictions are in place, arguing queues of people could deter voters, impact turnout and “have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in society”.
Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said: “The pandemic continues to present significant health and safety risks and we are concerned that it will be impossible to mitigate against all of these risks if in-person voting proceeds on May 6 as planned.
“Many polling stations will be unsuitable for the sort of adaptations that will be required to keep our members and voters safe.
“Many older buildings that are used as polling stations simply do not have the space required to maintain social distancing, which will result in either a restriction on the number of electors the station can accommodate at any one time and significant queues outside the polling station, and many of them do not have the ventilation required to allow fresh air to circulate.
“Many polling and counting stations have already been repurposed as vaccination centres, rendering them unavailable for use.
“All of this will require significant additional resources for local authorities, and all have the potential to impact voter turnout.”
Mark Ferguson, chair of Unison Scotland’s local government committee, added: “The majority of local government workers involved in the conduct of elections do so on a voluntary basis – as their representatives we will have to consider carefully the advice we give to our members about their involvement in these elections should the concerns noted in our letter to the Cabinet Secretary remain unanswered.”