CALLS for a special group to be set up to investigate the poor turnout in the Highland Council elections have been rejected amid claims polling stations were badly sited.
Only 41 per cent of the 176,226 people eligible in the region bothered to vote at the elections last month.
That was a sharp drop of 12 per cent compared to the last vote in 2007.
More than 900 ballot papers were spoiled and the Independent group of councillors, which fell short of a majority by six seats, called for an urgent review of the single transferable vote (STV) system used, claiming it confused voters.
Senior Independent councillor Margaret Davidson said the turnout fall was a worrying trend and tabled a motion at the local authority’s meeting in Inverness on Thursday seeking the formation of a cross-party working group.
It would have analysed the issues which may have affected people not voting and would have reported back in the autumn, but her move was thwarted by the SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition.
Councillor Davidson (Aird and Loch Ness) claimed at least two polling stations had been poorly located in her ward and said not enough was being done to encourage the hundreds of students living away from the Highlands to vote.
“There are polling stations which don’t make geographical sense and it doesn’t encourage people to turn up,” she said. “If there are two examples in my ward there must be others elsewhere.
“When I visited polling stations the staff told me there weren’t younger ones voting, many of them are away at university. I don’t know how we can do it but we really should be encouraging them that local government is important because there are a good few Highland youngsters studying.”
Newly elected Inverness SNP councillor Richard Laird said voter apathy was not a new problem and occurred during the old ballot system.
He said STV had cut the number of uncontested elections and it was up to the councillors to get the electorate interested in the authority’s work by its actions.
A successful amendment was tabled by Councillor Laird stating that STV had strengthened local democracy which defeated the motion.
The turnout issues will instead be reviewed by the council’s new community safety, public engagement and equalities committee.
Voters rank candidates in order of preference for multi-member wards in the STV method which was first introduced in 2007.