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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Election night blues

For those of us who experienced a 24 hour count in 1999, the idea that election night might be deferred to enable postal votes to be better verified holds no fears. If we have to wait a bit longer to ensure that there is no fraud then so be it. I am not sure that the media or the public will be so patient however.

Back in 1999, local Councils were trying to count elections for their own chambers whilst at the same time dealing with two ballot papers and an alien electoral system for the Assembly. At about 4am it was decided that we should all go home and come back in five hours. My result was eventually declared at 5.30pm on the Friday.

I kept getting phone calls from friends and now-former work colleagues asking me how it was going. At one point the TV commentator, looking at pictures from Swansea Guildhall and no doubt devoid of much else to say, remarked that 'the Liberal Democrat candidate is looking very very nervous'. Considering that I had resigned my job to stand and that the resurgent Plaid vote had upset all the electoral calculations on the list, he was very much understating the case.

Now that I am much older I need my sleep, so by all means start the count at 9am the following day, but for goodness sake get it over with by teatime.
My personal opinion is thus:

Polling Day (7.00am to 10.00pm)
10.00pm Exit poll published

9.00am Counting Starts

It depends on the venue to be used for the count. Many local authorities rely on using their own facilities, eg leisure centres which they are keen to have back open on the Friday morning. Many Town Halls aren't really properly configured to conduct large counts (Swansea's Brangwyn Hall is an excellent venue and an exception to the rule). If I think of the last few counts i've been to, the 2004 local & european election count in Wrexham was held in NEWI's sprorts hall, Cardiff's GE count (for all 4 constituencies) was in the CIA and Islington's local count took place in a leisure centre. Such venues cost almost nothing for use during the night. There is also little difficulty in recruiting counting staff, even if they are faced with pulling an all day and nighter.

All that said though, when we vote in Euro elections the votes have to be stored until Sunday evening when polls on the continent finally close so that the results of our vote don't (in theory) impact on their's. In practice of course Exit Polls do take place and the parties can generally obtain a fairly accurate 'sample' during verification. Again it is reasonably cost effective to conduct a count on Sunday night running into Monday.
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