THE cost of last year's Scottish election fiasco soared by £9 million more than the previous election to £25m, figures released today reveal.

This has led Scottish Nationalist MSP Keith Brown to call on the company which supplied the electronic counting machines to offer a rebate.

It is thought more than 140,000 ballots were spoilt on May 3 when votes were held for the Scottish parliament. Tens of thousands more ballots were rejected for local authority elections, which were held on the same day, under a separate electoral system.

It was the first time electronic counting machines - provided by Buckinghamshire-based DRS - had been used in polling stations across the country.

Brown, a former depute returning officer and member of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said: "The rising costs of elections, no doubt due largely to the introduction of electronic counting and the involvement of DRS, is a cause for concern.

"So far £25 million has gone on the election with more costs still to be confirmed. When you consider the chaos of election night that is a ridiculous amount of money.

"With the former Scottish Executive making payments of nearly £5m to introduce electronic counting, and each individual local authority having to pay money to DRS, it is clear where this extra expenditure has gone."

He went on to say: "DRS will be getting 32 payments for this election, as well as those it has already received from central government. Instead it should be offering a rebate for the chaos that was caused at counts across the country.

"I will be contacting individual returning officers to find out how much each local authority has paid to DRS."

The information, obtained through parliamentary questions, shows the previous Executive spent £4.8m on testing and setting up electronic counting for the election. The Scotland Office estimates its costs at £19m and local authorities spent £1.9m in the year running up to the election, with figures for polling day itself still to come in.

Brown said it was it was "unacceptable" that such payments be made to a private company "that was found severely wanting".

"The huge costs of the Scotland Office are a disgrace in light of the botched job it made of actually running the elections. Where did this £19m go? The Scotland Office paid £12m for the 2003 elections and expects to pay £19m for the 2007 elections. That is a significant increase in cost.

"In looking further at the recommendations of the Gould review and in the negotiations to transfer the responsibility for running Scottish elections to Scotland, controlling the cost of elections and the profit made from them must also be considered."

He added: "The rising cost is another symptom of this badly managed election. The result was right but the process was clearly wrong."

The Gould review published in October by Canadian expert Ron Gould was scathing about the elections. He said he found mistakes at all levels, with the voter treated as "an afterthought".

Amy Rodger, Scottish director of the Electoral Reform Society, said the cost of the last election should not mean future elections are "run on the cheap".

"The election did cost more but a lot of money was put into raising awareness and from our point of view that's money well spent. It's important that elections are done properly and that means a decent amount of money being spent.

"It's important to remember that in a lot of the local areas the electronic counting worked fine, but there were technical and project management problems that caused the big problems, rather than the actual policy of e-counting. So I would like to see it being used next election. I'd hate to see people trying to run on the cheap because Scottish voters deserve better."

DRS was unavailable for comment.