Nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that the new Government clause to prevent Friday counting was completely watered down at the Report stage this week.
If you look at the latest version of the Constiutional Reform and Governance Bill online (section 90) you will see that the clause that caused all that excitement recently has been removed.
All the Returning Officers now have to do is take reasonable steps to try and start the count overnight now (hold a planning meeting?). If they decide not to do so the only sanction is that they have to write to the Electoral Commission within 30 days explaining why they didn't. Here is the relevant amendment...
NEW CLAUSE 37 - Parliamentary elections: counting of votes
"(6) In making arrangements under this rule, the returning officer shall have regard to the duty imposed on him by rule 45(3A) below."
"(3A) The returning officer shall take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes given on the ballot papers as soon as practicable within the period of four hours starting with the close of the poll.";
53ZA (1) In a contested election, if the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers did not begin within the period specified in rule 45(3A) above, the returning officer shall before the expiry of the period of 30 days starting with the day on which the poll closed-
(3) Where a statement is delivered to the Electoral Commission under paragraph (1)(b) above, the Commission shall specify in any election report they produce that a statement has been delivered to them under that paragraph in respect of the constituency to which the statement relates.
(4) In paragraph (3) above "election report" means a report under section 5(1) or (2A) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in relation to the parliamentary election in question."'.- (Mr. Wills.)
Word hasn't got round the Returning Officer world about this yet, I understand, but when it does it would be reasonable to expect something like 60 to 80 to happily write the Electoral Commission a letter about their decision to count on Friday. They are not the most dissident set of people but you do get the impression that on this they are willing to die in the ditches.
The appalling thing is that no one - MPs, journalists and bloggers alike - seem to have noticed this sleight of hand by Jack Straw - or perhaps, more accurately, his civil servants. And we call this parliamentary scrutiny! Surely to God someone in the Commons should have been paying attention. It went through on the nod, with no debate and no vote.
I understand - although I haven't seen it - that a letter has been sent out by the AEA to Returning Officers explaining why Michael Wills, the Justice Minister, has agreed to the new amendment. Although surprisingly nothing appears on their public website.
It is not just the EROs who need certainty, it is the broadcasters. All the main broadcasters will have something like 100 outside broadcast vans in various leisure centres and school halls on the night and Friday if necessary. Many are being imported from overseas as British broadcasters don't have enough to go around.
The lack of certainty over who is counting when is causing huge logistical problems for Sky, ITV and the BBC. If there are significant numbers of counts on the Friday it makes the difference between planning a 14 hour broadcast and a 20 hour one, with all the resultant consequences of staffing levels, hotels etc.
At some point, decisions are going to have to be made.