More general election counts set to be held on Thursday following legal change

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.

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4 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Feb '10 - 12:08am

    And of course, any attempt to improve the systems is met with some bureaucrat saying “I don’t think this is necessary, there’s no problem”. The idea of actually making things better than the last election is rarely considered.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Feb '10 - 2:02pm

    This is all a disaster which is going to cause some really buig cock-up sooner or later. Anyone who thinks that mistakes at counts are not sometimes (I think often) by tiredness must have been asleep at most counts.

    Getting people to count votes at 3am or 5am (often after working on the election day beforehand since 7am) is utterly crackers.

    This is all self-important (and very dangerous) nonsense by self-important politicos.

    Tony Greaves

  • Liberal Neil 11th Feb '10 - 5:24pm

    I agree with Tony.

    I also think it is disgraceful that MPs in Westminster feel they can second guess Returning Officers on the ground.

    There has always been a mix of Thursday night and Friday daytime counts, the balance has just shifted a little over the years.

  • Liberal Neil – the facts don’t support your comment.

    Total GB seats counted the next day:

    2005 election – 5 out of 628

    2001 election – 6 out of 641

    1997 election – 10 out of 641

    1992 election – 19 out of 634

    Only 3 seats have always counted on the Friday: Skipton, Argyll, Berwick.

    Notice all the islands seats have often managed to count on the night.

    The idea that a lot of seats have always counted on the Friday is a myth.

    Even back in 1964, 430 seats counted on the night – nearly 70% of the total.

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