Sunday, September 06, 2009

Election Nights May Never Be the Same Again

Colin Bland is not a name that will be familiar to most of you. But this man may be in part responsible for ruining your enjoyment of election night. He is the chief executive of Broadland District Council who broke convention and ordered the count for the Norwich North by election to take place on the Friday rather than the usual Thursday night/Friday morning. It seems his colleagues in other councils have taken this as a green light to plan to do the same for the general election. The Sunday Times has the full story HERE. Up to a quarter of councils may opt to count on the Friday.

So not only do trains run more slowly than they did 100 years ago, election counts are slower too. All in the name of progress, no doubt.

I suppose the only consolation is that the election "night" programme will last much longer than usual! But it will undoubtedly make the whole event less exciting.

So, time to lobby your own local council to keep to Thursday night, perhaps?

52 comments:

Simon Gardner said...

Well really! What a thing to be bothered about. Does it matter? Not a jot.

Seb Smith said...

Surely Iain, you should be happy for councils to save money by taking longer over the count...

We could copy the American system, and let BBC / ITV / Sky call it on the basis of exit polling.

Martin said...

Gives the Liebour party more time to fiddle the vote. I'm not joking here either, we've seen numerous cases involving Labour scum fiddling the local election results. Glasgow anyone?

Labour scum see Afghanistan as a model not a warning.

Pudge Facker said...

It is important that it be done as quickly as possible on the night - that way there is no scope for suggestions of vote tampering or impropriety in the gap between the polls closing and the count starting.

What with postal vote abuse, electronic voting trials and this sort of bureaucratic self-interest we're going to end up not being a democracy at all.

talwin said...

Merely means we'll have to wait a little bit longer to see if, just for once, G. Brown can, in defeat, say something magnanimous, with a little humility, and sounding even remotely sincere. Oh, and not have to read it.

Ben Archibald said...

This would be a disaster for our system. We're used to an effective concession, followed by a frog-throated speech by the losing leader and an early afternoon visit to No 10 on Friday.

What on Earth do the local authorities think they can achieve by this? One of the glories of our system is the swift decapitation of failed politicians, one after another, on our screens, and Friday off to get over the hangover. Bastards!

Anonymous said...

They'll need Thursday night to 'verify' that the voting papers all have crosses by Labour cnadidates... also see how many postal ballots are for Labour fom 20 person families 8-)

Silent Hunter said...

Hmmmm?

I smell a Labour rat here.

This just gives them longer to 'fiddle' the postal votes as they did in Birmingham and in the Glenrothes By-Election.

A Very Public Sociologist said...

Living in a constituency where this is likely to be the case, I completely agree with you. Save election night!

IanVisits said...

If, as claimed, that cost is the main criteria then why not switch to seeking local volunteers?

I am sure loads of people would probably quite enjoy being part of the event. Even if not particularly political, it is a chance to do something a bit different for once.

I'd probably volunteer for my local count if the council staff are being intransigent.

To be honest, I never realised the counts were done by paid staff - I had presumed, without thinking about it in depth, that they were all volunteers!

Man in a Shed said...

The longer the gap between casting your vote and having it counted - the greater the gap for fraud.

If an election was to be stolen - this is how it would be done.

Remember Labours postal votes fraud fiascos which disenfranchised women from certain ethnic groups ( but guaranteed more votes for Labour )?

Anonymous said...

Polite words fail me. I suppose just another instance of wrecking venerable British institutions. I don't know about living in a broken society, we certainly live in a killjoy one.

Hawkeye said...

I agree with other commenters - counting the votes as quickly as possible stops fraud.

A stink needs to be made - and now, not after the election.

norfolkandchance said...

In this case conspiracy theories are wide of the mark. Their performance on election night 2001 was so inept that, prior to the 2005 election, we met the Chief Executive of the council to try to ensure there would be no repetition. It was to no avail, the Norwich North count took forever. Then they had to start on the Mid Norfolk count - which took so long that we barely had time to shoot over to Thetford for the CC counts.

If starting Friday morning means they do it competently I am all for it.

Patrick said...

lets have elections on sunday!!!

It will give those of us who actually work for a living (and pay for this charade) a chance to vote.

Anonymous said...

The worry is that the delay gives the socialists time to rig the ballot boxes.

john in cheshire

It doesn't add up... said...

Colin Bland was perhaps the finest fielder to pick up a cricket ball.

Delaying election counts does give extra time for ballot box stuffing - which is the best reason for allowing no delay to the start of the count once the poll has closed.

RedEye said...

I think the councils are doing this to save money on overtime. Then again, if they wanted to save money, they could have separate ballot boxes for County and GE papers. That way they could avoid fiascos like the 2005 GE count in Staffs. Moorlands, where two thirds of a six and a half hour count was spent separating the GE and County ballot papers. Talk about false economies.

Stephen said...

Surely if enough 'other' people volunteered to count the votes (I'd certainly be up for it, and I come with a complete CRB check!) then councils could go ahead with it anyway...?

G.O.T. said...

Excellent idea Patrick . .
Election on a Sunday with vote counting on the following Sunday.

MikeyP said...

Just make the voting electronic, but still based on a system of polling stations, and the result could be declared about 10 milliseconds after the polls close!

wonkotsane said...

The councils pay members of the public to work for them on election day, it's not a job for council officers.

Karl-Heinz Dimbleby said...

Sounds a bit like the election night specials that you get in Afghanistan.

Pelagius said...

I wouldn't trust many returning officers to hold completed ballots overnight. In one county, the electoral registration officer became a Labour councillor via a special interim job created for him pending the by-election.

If New Labour is behind this, don't trust 'em. We have already seen multiple fiddles on voter registration and postal votes. Frankly, I think the court cases only represent the tip of the ice-berg.

Anonybot said...

Stephen:

Local councils have relied on "bank tellers/clerks" and similar to help out at the election counts for years usually because of their dexterity and skills counting large bundles of papers quickly and accurately. However they are paid a flat fee - used to be around £30 in my day and that covers from when you turn up usually around 9.30pm for a general election to when you're released - which could be 6 hours or more later - I suspect that if you employed on average 30 "tellers" at £30 it was still be cheaper than using council staff as they would have to be paid overtime which would be considerably more than £30 flat fee. But councils are strapped for cash so it is probably considered an expense that can be eliminated which is the reason why some councils are going for a next day count using council staff within their existing 9 - 5 contract of employment I guess. As to whether "volunteers" could initially be as quick in the count without training(it sounds easy to count bundles - but it's not as easy as you think to do it quickly without practice)and would there be enough unpaid volunteers in every area(particularly rural areas)and each counting team would still require an experienced supervisor as they have under the present system

Dick the Prick said...

@Patrick - can't agree with you there man, voting is pretty easy as long as you're not called out of the country and you can still do a proxy.

It's absolutely bang out of order. Election & counts staff are cheap as chips. Usually drawn from local government officers who are all about duty. Some people love elections - almost live for them.

The thrill of the count, the buzz of the charge, the Portillo moments - the agitation of the candidates, the speed and dynamism of the various results as they come in, Peter Snow losing the competitive edge, Paxman shown up for being ignorant, etblinkingcetera. The fact that people are knackered is irrelevant. It's a bonus for councils.

Thatsnews said...

If it would be cheaper (IF!) then it might be a good idea. But I'll bet it ends up costing more, in the end.

Chris Nelson said...

I agree that it would be better the counts to be done sooner rather than later - but some of the conspiracy theories about vote stuffing here are wide of the mark.

Every ballot paper is sealed from the moment they leave the polling station to the moment they are opened for verification - and, in my local council area at least, each candidate is entitled to put their own seals on if they're concerned.

Don't forget that pretty much all this year's county council elections were counted the day after. If that was a conspiracy to help the Labour Party, it wasn't a very good one - they got universally trashed!

Will Cooling said...

Actually Ian a hundred years ago election counts took over three weeks due to the lack of a centralised polling day. But don't let the facts get in the way of your reactionary nonsense.

Captain Swing said...

As far as I'm aware Local Councils do not pay for the elections to take place, the finance for this all comes from the Central Goverment coffers. So it is not a local cost saving exercise more likely just looking at a more sensible time to get staff to undertake the work.

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Demetrius said...

Constitutionally, I am told, that whilst this Parliament is at and end next May, the Prime Minister is under no obligation to call an election. For this to happen he must ask HM The Queen who is bound to take his advice. If he does not ask, then he continues as Prime Minister unless HM Queen decides to dismiss him. This would be a precedent. Now you can all start worrying.

Steve Tierney said...

Horrible idea.

Scary Biscuits said...

Surely Bland is just an employee. It's up to the elected councillors and they could have overrulled him had they wanted to.

Anonymous said...

How about some practical reality folks?

I have been a returning officer and the issue is one of increasingly challenged logistics.

To staff an election in a moderately sized rural constituency requires at least two staff per polling station, rising to four or five in larger ones - a total of 2-300 people; the same staff are required by statute to be on duty all day: taking the equipment to the polling station (which may or may not be local to them) in time to open up and set up the equipment by 7am, remaining on duty without a break until 10pm (which should allow even the most dedicated of worker to get to the polls - even without the use of a postal vote, Patrick), and then seal up the ballot boxes and return them to the counting centre. In my case certainly, we advertised widely for polling staff and counters and barely received enough interest to run the polls with a payment - so I'm not convinced that we'd get enough volunteers to do it.
And then you start the count - which you can only do once all ballot boxes have been delivered to the count centre. In cases where there is more than one election happening simultaneously you still need to open both ballot boxes in case voters have put votes in the wrong box ... and the process of counting itself then takes the time it takes - often with the counting being done by the same staff who have been at the polling stations since 7am.

Mistakes get made - and not just in the counting. At the parliamentary election I was responsible for, our count finished at 5 am, and we were not clear of the counting hall until after the county elections had been counted and all the clearaway done - and one of my staff had a fortunately not serious car accident on their way home - but it could have been much worse, and tiredness was certainly a factor.

At the subsequent local election count I took the decision (and it is one for the individual returning officer, not for the council) to count on Friday - becasue I was not prepared to be responsible for putting people in a position where they might be working for 24 hours or more without a break - and the whole process was much improved, more reliable and from start to finish of the count, much quicker.

I understand the media's demand for instant gratification and the excitement of knowing the winner, but we are choosing the government of the country for the next four or five years, not the winner of the FA Cup - and a 24 hour delay does not seem unreasonable in the interests of getting it right.

(Oh, and the pay rates for the staff are set by the Electoral Commission, so overtime doesn't come into it one way or the other).

Madasafish said...

Lets save money and do it in workers' spare time - 1 hour a week. A result would take about 6 months..
Lunacy.

TomTom said...

Time to switch elections to Sunday. this Thursday voting and results out Friday evening is pathetic and leads to people simply ignoring elections as things drag out over the weekend.

Round here we do not even get local election results posted or even on TV...it is only the Internet which gives any running commentary.

Elections are being devalued because they are essentially meaningless nowadays. Democracy is simply devalued and moribund for administrative convenience

random idiot said...

Patrick,

Whenever I hear that there's not enough time to vote during the day I just think "excuses, excuses". If voting is important to you, you will find time.

Save election night!

strapworld said...

I believe general election should be held over two days, preferably at weekends. Polling Stations can be locked and guarded by the police.It would allow people to actually see a police officer on the streets-so to speak!

The police would love it as they all would be on 12 hour shifts to enable the coverage.

This would also allow so many more people to vote.

Counting the morning after sounds a good idea. It would ensure 24 hour news channels actually did have breaking news all the time!!

It would also mean that commentators would be able to give opinions having had a good night's sleep.

Saving money for local council tax payers is an added bonus.

The job of counting could be given to volunteers from the community!

Anonymous said...

What a crap idea ! This could lead to the nonsenical practice of 'calling' the election perpetrated by the American television networks.

Hanging chads in Florida anyone ??

Anonymous said...

In 2005 after the verification, I called one marginal seat as a Tory gain. I even told the candidate that she would be elected.

But the postal votes saw a surge in the Labour figures out of proportion to the actual votes cast on the day. Result still one Labour MP. The Returning Officer was of course an employee of a Labour Council

The most corrupt election in recent years was last year’s Presidential/Parliamentary election in Zimbabwe (the Afghan election isn’t over yet). Mugabe delayed and delayed the declaration and this proposal reminds me of that tactic.

Now I'm not saying this constituency was twinned with Glenrothes but I'm suspicious. I do not trust any Nulab Council official or even Police Officer not to tamper with or switch ballot papers between leaving the Polling Station and the boxes being opened under supervision by all the candidates’ representatives.

The actual count is fine. It is supervised by the counting agents of all parties and where I was, those who did the counting were actually employees of the local banks. Not employees of the Labour controlled Council.

Hamish said...

The main problem is having polling stations open until 10pm.
Hardly anyone votes in the last couple of hours.
Close them earlier, and we'll have results coming through at a reasonable hour and know the overall result by midnight.

True Belle said...

As there are(sadly)hundreds of nimble fingered redundant bank cashiers or their overlords,may not it be a good idea to use their finger skimming skills to the best of their ability re the count?

Anonymous said...

I hope that there will be a cross party guard on the ballot box. This really would be right up New Labour's street.

Armchair said...

The government ought to order councils to count on the night unless there are exceptional reasons.

If need be pass a General Election Counting Act. and make it compulsory

smallbz said...

The Chief executive of Bexley Council earned £8,264 for being the returning officer at the recent Euro elections.

For that sort of wedge,I expect them to work late.....

http://www.bexley.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6814

Elby the Beserk said...

More time for Labour top fill in all those postal votes, I guess.

Norfolk Blogger said...

Tory Council ruins election night. Nice headline.

Roland Deschain said...

Anonymous said...
How about some practical reality folks?

I have been a returning officer and the issue is one of increasingly challenged logistics......
September 06, 2009 6:54 PM


Every one of your points must have been equally valid 30 years ago. We could do it then. Why not now?

The longer the delay, the greater chance of vote-fiddling. It's a mark of the depths to which the incumbents have sunk that this is now viewed by so many as a possibility.

Anonymous said...

... and in reply to Roland Deschain, thirty years ago I remember watching Shirley Williams - then Labour MP for Hertford and Stevenage - lose her seat - in a count which took place on Friday following the previous day's General Election. There have always been many seats which count on Friday - for a variety of reasons.

I was simply pointing out that - in this instance - it's not about money it's about practicalities, and that the Sunday Times - not unusually - is using any passing stick to beat the public sector with ('preserving a 9-5 existence', doesn't square with a work pattern that starts at 6 am and ends at midnight even without a count), and that the purpose of the whole process is to elect a parliament not provide a game show.

albertmbankment said...

The only Colin Bland worth a bucket of cold spit is the brilliant South African cricketer, who ran out Ken Barrington in the Lord's test in (checks) 1965.

Anonymous said...

Election nights?, we'll be lucky to get any elections at all, McLabour may ban them!.