Observations from the £eith Chooses Steering Group
This year’s £eith Chooses has been the same in many ways to previous years. The fundamental aim remains, which is to allow the local community to choose for itself which projects it think would most benefit the people in its area. This is the process called ‘Participatory Budgeting’. Leith was an early pioneer of this process. Even if only a few dozen people voted, this system would be more democratic than a Council official or a panel of ‘the great and the good’ allocating money from on high, without consulting the community. But in fact, over the years, the numbers of people voting have gone up from about three hundred the first year (2010), to well over a thousand, on a regular basis.
The Voting Process 2022/23
This year, we had over 1600 voters, although this number came down to 1593 after weeding out ineligible voters – more about those numbers later. When we can have in-person voting days, it is a grand way to come together as a community, learn about the great work of so many excellent groups and charities, and to invest in our own community.
This year again, we were unable to offer the in-person voting day. We know that is a huge loss and a disappointment to the Steering Group as much – or more – as everybody else. But in the planning stages, earlier in 2022, we had to take a decision, and at that stage, Covid was actually still very rampant (although happily, with less extreme effects, thanks to vaccination) and having a severe effect on the capacity of all sorts of organisations. Additionally, the Community Centre at that time was not fully re-opened, and had restrictions on the numbers allowed in, so we could not be certain that it would be available to us.
There were one or two other small changes to the process this year:
- The voting period was extended from one week to two weeks, to try to ensure that everyone had plenty time to place their votes.
- In addition to online voting, we re-introduced paper-based voting because we recognised that there are significant numbers of Leithers who may be ‘digitally excluded’ and cannot easily access online voting, for various reasons. We provided postage paid reply envelopes along with voting forms, and we also provided a ballot box facility at 5 different locations in Leith, so that people didn’t have to go and find a post box, but could vote on site.
In all, 20 projects had applied to £eith Chooses this year, and the total amount of money requested amounted to £86,802. However, as there was only £54,102 available, sadly not every group that applied could be successful in winning funding. Based on the number of votes received, 12 projects will receive full funding. (Some projects applied for the maximum of £5,000, but a few requested less a somewhat lower amount).
We do not normally release the number of votes any project group got to anyone other than to that project group itself. If any project wants to see how many votes they got, and where they sat on the scale of votes, in relation to other projects, they are advised to email Caroline Lamond privately.
There were 1,634 voters altogether, but of those 41 were ineligible, due to the fact that their connection to Leith or their addresses was unstated, or ineligible (because they were not within the boundaries of the £eith Chooses area). So the total number of voters accepted as eligible was 1,593.
This is very slightly less than last year, when we had 1,657 eligible voters, but it is roughly similar to – actually significantly higher than – the number of people that we have had voting in person at the community centre in earlier years.
We really have no way of knowing with any certainty why the number dropped this year, but it is not a very significant drop overall.
The fact that voter numbers are not higher than last year does possibly indicate that extending voting over two weeks rather than just one week, as in the past two years of online voting only, does not necessarily increase the overall number of votes.
With regard to the voting patterns, we can make a few immediate observations.
We can see clearly from the votes that we got a greater number of votes this year that had to be excluded as ineligible because they did not include a valid Leith postcode or street address. Nearly all of those were amongst the postal and paper ballot box votes, rather than amongst the online votes. This is because the online system automatically prompts the voter if they fail to fill in their address field, and prevents them proceeding until it’s done, whereas on the paper vote forms, of course, there is no such prompt.
The lesson we learn from this is that if we do paper voting again in the future, we will try to redesign the form to make it as clear as humanly possible that the postcode or street address MUST be noted before proceeding to the vote.
The paper and postal voting was an experiment, which we felt was important because of the known problem of digital exclusion. However there was a relatively low take up of this facility, so it’s something we’ll need to think more about for future years.
120 people used the ballot boxes on site to cast their paper vote forms, But very few people used the postage paid reply envelopes to post in their vote – only 18 were received by post!
The total number of votes cast for projects was 5,840.
You might think that because each voter could cast up to 4 votes, the number should just be the total voter number x 4 (in other words 6,372), but it isn’t, because some people chose to cast fewer than their maximum number of possible votes.
However, the majority of voters – 85% of voters – used their Boost Vote, only 15% did not. This is very similar to last year and to previous years since the Boost Vote was introduced, and shows a strong commitment to supporting ethnic minority projects within the Leith community.