One of Ballot Box Scotland’s most popular little bits of content is reporting on by-election results. Naturally, this is most exciting on the day of the by-election. Whilst election teams across Scotland are all extremely hard working, it varies widely as to how much is reported, and how quickly, by each council on the day.

I therefore prefer to have the data in my own hands pretty much immediately, and for that I rely on sources at counts. If you are a candidate, campaign manager, or just general party activist attending a count, it’s extremely helpful if you can loop me into the results as soon as you can. In the previous term (2017-22), I often forgot to ask for sources until quite late on, and I didn’t have guidance to hand to explain what I needed. I’ve thrown this page together as a very quick little explainer.

What does BBS need to report a result?

There are two bits of information I need that can be transmitted straight from a count. What form they take depends on how the vote is held. Unlike full council elections, by-elections can choose between a machine or hand count. Either way, I need two things: First Preferences and Transfers.

Machine Count

If the count is by machine, once it has completed, candidates and agents will be handed a printout of the results. It’ll look something like this, though to save on council print costs, it may be in black and white rather than colour.

This first page gives, naturally enough, the first preferences. Those are the first and key thing I want to report from a by-election, showing how popular each party was as a first choice amongst voters. It should also show the turnout and a declaration of who was elected and at what stage.

The remainder of the pages should be the candidate votes per stage, which will look very similar but is technically a separate document. There will be one page for each round of transfers – so, for example, if it takes four rounds for a winner to be identified, there will be four pages to this report. These pages allow me to chart the transfers at each stage as candidates are eliminated.

All you have to do is send me the data from all of these pages. In this day and age, the easiest way to do this is to take a picture of each page on your phone and then send them, either to the DMs on @BallotBoxScot on Twitter, or via email to Please make sure the photographs are clear and show the data for all candidates. 

Hand Count

Hand counts follow the same mathematical process, but each round is counted individually before moving onto the next. You won’t get auto-generated printouts, but you should nonetheless be given the votes at each stage. Simply send the numbers for each round to me, again either to the DMs on @BallotBoxScot on Twitter, or via email to

Ideally, getting this data to me after each round completes is best – mostly because it’s just more fun that way, especially in close contests, where I can report each (or key) rounds as they happen!

Is it Okay for me to send BBS this data?

Completely. All of the data I use for my election reporting is legally required to be published by the council. However, not all councils make it available immediately, and it can sometimes even take until after the weekend for full transfer rounds to be made available.

This can be frustrating, especially given all the Twitter hubbub around local by-elections only really lasts for a few hours. Far fewer people notice or care about a transfer chart posted on the Monday than do on the Friday! That’s not just bad for engagement, though obviously I like that, but it can leave people with the wrong idea about why a by-election went the way it did, since they don’t have the full picture.

Regardless of how long it takes the council to publish the data on its website, it is in the public domain from the moment of declaration, and can be shared accordingly. I can therefore guarantee you that you won’t get in trouble for sending it to me!