The Government has backed a move to amend election law to ensure that general election counts are started on the evening of polling day, exception in exceptional circumstances.
This exception will mean that counts for constituencies where there are severe logistical problems in getting ballot boxes in from polling stations, such as from Scottish islands, are likely to continue to commence on Fridays. However, for other constituencies counts will commence on Thursday evening.
The new clause in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill will require the counting of votes at a UK Parliamentary general elections to commence within four hours of the close of poll, except in exceptional circumstances as defined in guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the Electoral Commission.
This new clause follows a campaign founded by ConservativeHome’s Jonathan Isaby that used a mixture of internet campaigning, media work and direct political lobbying to bring about this change in the law. (I was also one of the ‘founding members’ of the campaign, though the lion’s share of the work on it was done by Jonathan.)
Although some electoral administrators have expressed opposition to this legal change, it’s likely that their concerns did not carry that much weight in Parliament because of the experience of many MPs at the very patchy quality of election counts. Many are run extremely well and efficiently, but far too many are not – prompting the thought that the answer to dealing with the logistical issues involved with new postal voting rules is to run counts better rather than to delay them.
Certainly the evidence gathered by the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) about the merits of Thursday versus Friday counts included some important issues but also some extremely poorly argued claims about why Thursday night counting was not possible or advisable in some areas. In particular, many administrators who expressed concern about how to handle postal votes did not go on to consider the range of options available to them under the law but instead immediately concluded that they must therefore delay counts.
One particular red herring often cited is the claim that starting counts on Friday results in greater accuracy, but in fact it’s poor systems, not tired people, that cause the problems. A round-up of responses to the other arguments over Friday counts is here.