Candidate unhappy over ballot paper error

Scottish Borders Council is having to reprint around 55,000 ballot papers ahead of next week’s election on May 6 after spelling a candidate’s name wrongly.

Jesse Rae is standing as an independent candidate in the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency. Photograph: Ian Rutherford.
Jesse Rae is standing as an independent candidate in the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency. Photograph: Ian Rutherford.

The almighty blunder is compounded by the fact that more than half of the postal votes have already been returned, and the council is having to send letters to almost 13,000 people to explain the mistake.

In the original ballot papers, independent candidate Jesse Rae was spelled Jessie Rae.

And, with ITV Border shunning the claymore-toting musician for its round-up of candidates for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency, there is a fair chance that people who may have voted for Mr Rae chose not to because they didn’t know it was him.

Mr Rae, who had a huge hit in the 1980s with ‘Over The Sea’, told The Southern today: “It feels like I’ve been torpedoed.

“The new chief executive of the council, Netta Meadows, who is the Returning Officer, called me the other day to give me three options, of reprinting some, all or none of the papers, which is a bit ridiculous.

"I know of one person in Greenlaw who has told me he would have voted for me if he knew it was me on the paper."

Mr Rae has stood in elections before. In 2015, he stood as an independent in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency in the UK elections, gaining 135 votes.

However, Mr Rae believes he would have garnered more this time around.

He said: “Back in 2009, I helped many primary schoolchildren across the Borders broadcast their own programmes. With all of these guys now of voting age, I’d like to think some of them at least would remember me and think ‘Yeah, that guy helped us out, I think he could do some good.”

In a letter to Mr Rae, explaining her choice to only reprint the polling station ballot papers, Ms Meadows admitted: “As you have commented, the name ‘Jessie’ is perhaps used more often by females while the name ‘Jesse’ is more often seen to be a male name. You consider voters would think the candidate on the ballot is not you, but a woman.

"Sex is a protected characteristic and I, as the Returning Officer, need to have regard to that.”

She then outlined her decision to reprint the ballot papers for the polling places.

She said: “This will mean reprinting 521 books of 100 ballot papers (amounting to 52,100 ballots) plus 125 books of 25 tendered ballot papers, amounting to 3,125 ballot papers. In total, therefore, I have arranged to reprint 55,225 ballot papers.”

She also said that resending postal ballots would result in “voter disenfranchisement”, which was, she said, “a genuine and significant concern for me”, and the affected voters would only have three days to return their vote.

However, Ms Meadows emailed candidates and their agents today (Wednesday) to say: “At the briefing on the 27th April I was asked if I would reissue a PV ballot paper to an elector who requests one as a result of the misspelling of the name Jesse Rae.

“I have taken advice on this matter and can now advise that the answer will depend on whether or not that voter has already returned their PV to me.

“If the ballot paper has been returned, a further ballot paper cannot be issued.

"If however any postal voter who has not voted contacts me to say they have spoilt or lost their ballot paper, then they are entitled to be issued with a replacement ballot paper.”

Ms Meadows told the Southern today: “Unfortunately in the printing of the ballot papers for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency a spelling mistake has been made in respect of the name of independent candidate Jesse Rae. The name appears on the ballot paper as Jessie Rae instead of Jesse Rae.

“We have apologised to Mr Rae for this error and for any embarrassment caused.”

On the cost involved, a council spokesman said: “The reprinting of ballot papers for polling places will come at no cost to the council as this will be funded through an external elections account.”

The Southern has also discovered that there were further mistakes in the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale ballot papers, in which a technical error occurred with the prefix code on 6,285 regional list ballot papers issued to registered postal voters.

The council spokesperson said: “The constituency ballot papers are not affected.

“This is a technical issue and has no impact on the validity of the ballot papers issued. There is no requirement to reprint any ballot papers.

“Administrative steps are being taken to rectify the error when returned postal vote packs are received and verified.

"Candidates and agents have been briefed and, as is normal, have been invited to observe the postal vote opening process.”