Thursday, January 21, 2010

Election Night Bill Needed

Yesterday, I the Electoral Commission reported that only 325 constituencies have so far said for definite that their counts will be held on election night. 275 constituencies have yet to decide, or rather the local authority returning officers have yet to decide.

You can see the full list HERE.

In Norfolk, only two out of the nine constituencies are committed to counting on the night - Norwich South and North Norfolk. Bearing in mind the geographical size of North Norfolk, you'd have to say that if they can do it, why can't all other constituencies? Great Yarmouth is giving the lilly-livered response that they will only count on the night if there are no local elections. Funny how they managed to count during the night in 2005, when, like North Norfolk, they counted the county council elections the next day.

There really is a simple solution to this. The government should introduce a one line bill ordering all general election counts to take place immediately after the polls have closed. It would get cross party support in both Houses and deal with the issue once and for all. This is an issue of national importance. It is vital that the sovereignty of the ballot is protected. The longer a count is delayed, the more opportunity there is for mischief.

Local authority chief executives, who double as returning officers get paid a handsome bonus for conducting elections. I seem to remember it is in the region of £10,000. They should get off their fat arses and sort this, before it is sorted for them.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Local Authority Chief Executives should remember that they are servants of the people and the people want an immediate count. Perhaps if they were to revert to their original title, Town Clerk, they would have a better handle on how their relationship with the electorate should work.

Its all so incredibly arrogant.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Local Authority Chief Executives should remember that they are the servants of the people and the people want an immediate count.

I believe a large part of the problem is the nomenclature. Local 'Authority' carries an implicit indication of them bossing us. Local Council evens its up.

If the Chief Executives of Councils were to revert to their original title, Town Clerk, they might get a better handle on the balance in the relationship.

Its the arrogance I can't stand.

Anonymous said...

Instead of going on holiday for a week Labour MPs should be backing election night counts - Dont think legislation would be implemented now.

Interestingly if the cost of £10,000 is what it would take to count on the night. Funny isn't it that Labour MPs would rather channel £10,000 into the communication allowance when the best gift they could give democracy is a count on the night to ease suspicions of vote rigging.

David Boothroyd said...

You don't half post some crap these days, Iain. First you go for the old lie that any day on which Parliament is not sitting must be a "holiday" for MPs, which is such utter rubbish it hardly stands up to a moment's scrutiny, and then this. The law already says that the Returning Officer is obliged to begin the count "as soon as practicable" after the close of the poll, so what you are asking is that ROs are legally required to conduct a count even when they believe it to be impracticable.

Wanting to get the general election results as fast as possible is admirable but there is one quality which far outweighs it: the requirement to produce an accurate result. Ordering ROs to count when impracticable is a dangerous move.

golden_balls said...

I must admit on this post i do agree.

The count must be carried out on election day Labour gains nothing through this delay other then we all have one less day under a conservatie government hmmmmm

I'm having second thoughts now !

Iain Dale said...

David, as someone who knows about posting crap (!) perhaps you might tell me why local authorities find it impracticable now, when they didn't in 2005 or 2001.

Anonymous said...

Quite right Iain.

Returning officers of the past would surely have had things to say about some of these councils only being concerned about the bottom line, and thus saying 'to hell with what anyone else wants' as in effect, that is what they are doing.

Democracy should be seen to be done, and swiftly done too.

Anonymous said...

There are a few constituencies where that might be problematic - I'm thinking of St. Ives which includes Scilly (a whole lot of small islands with no night flights) and the more remote Scottish regions where it is physically impossible to get ballot boxes to counting centres. The ballots have to be available to the candidates and their team so that they can contest any spoiled forms - so they have to come to the centre.

These constituencies have always held the count on the following day.

So the wholly reasonable law would have to be worded along the lines of 'as soon as possible'. But in such a way that councils can't use late nights as a reasonable excuse.

javelin said...

My worry is that if we end up with

1) a small majority and one party has not pleged 20% cuts


2) both parties have not pleged 20% cuts

THEN the sterling will suffer because traders expect the next gilt auction to drive up interest rates.

I believe the Tories are tracking the Labour party cuts, it would be economically sound if they simply announced 20% cuts but political suicide. Labour getting in again would be like putting the Ken Dodd in charge of HM Customs and Revenue.

The Tories (and labour) are both trying to keep their mouths shut until May 6th.

Anonymous said...

Is there nothing in Election Law which sets down a time frame or something?

David Boothroyd said...

Because the procedure for verifying postal votes has changed so that the identities of the voter can be checked. As a result this stage now takes much longer and involves more people, rendering it impractical to conduct an immediate count.

You ought to remember that, because you posted this piece calling for postal vote law reform. Making sure postal votes are accompanied by unique identifiers is a pretty solid basis on which to base a reformed system but it also happens to create more work.

Unsworth said...

These Chief Execs are so well paid that they wouldn't even consider getting out of bed for anything less than £20k.

Time to kick the idle sods out.

Not a sheep said...

"The longer a count is delayed, the more opportunity there is for mischief." I think you have explained the reasoning there. This election will make all previous elections look completely free of electoral fraud. Postal voting, personation etc. etc. etc. Labour will not give up power easily.

Unsworth said...

The usual Boothroyd bollox.

Where's the evidence that these people have decided it to be 'impracticable' to carry out the counts on the day in question?

And what evidence have they put up to show that it is 'impracticable'? It certainly wasn't before - what has changed? More of these interesting postal votes, perhaps? Well, it's not as if the ROs are personally checking each vote is it? Those applying to vote by post have to put up Personal Identifers before voting. Need more people to check the verification? Get more people. It ain't rocket science, and it's not as if they'll be full-time employees.

If these 275 Returning Officers cannot provide cogent reasons for failing to do their job properly they should be fired.

As to MPs' 'holidays', would Boothroyd be prepared to vouch that each and every MP is going to be working full time on constituency matters throughout this extended break from the rigours of filling in expenses claims at Westminster? If so, I wonder what his source of information might be.

Reading the Diary of my MP is salutary. It seems to be nothing but a long round of free travel to exotic destinations, free lunches, free dinners, free bleeding everything else. Sure, he does put in an appearance at local events from time to time, but so what, so do I?

Not a sheep said...

Maybe someone with some spare time could see if there is any correlation between the list of constituencies that will be delaying the count - - and the governing party of the relevant local council or the proxy of the sitting MP -

Could be interesting... I couldn't get the second file into Excel in a columnar file...

TheBoilingFrog said...

Agreed Iain, apart from the fraud and security issue, the financial markets are not going to react favourably to uncertainty about a result not being known until Friday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Boothroyd: "Wanting to get the general election results as fast as possible is admirable but there is one quality which far outweighs it: the requirement to produce an accurate result."

which therefore supports Iain's arguement - immediate count = less opportunity for funny business = more accurate.

You do post some utter tosh.

................................. said...

A one line bill ordering all general election counts to take place immediately after the polls have closed wouldn't work - ballot boxes do not magically, and instantly, zap over to the count, so a delay is inherent in having polling stations in various locations.
The Bill would have to allow for that delay, perhaps by saying the count has to begin as soon as all ballot boxes reach the count. But what' stopping returning officers holding the ballot boxes overnight somewhere else, and only taking them to the count the next day when they want to start?
It's not as easy as you think, Iain. These are, of course, slippery work-shy local government employees well-versed in avoiding doing anything they don't want to do.

Tapestry said...

before it gets sorted for them......and before they get sorted themselves.

John said...

Correct Iain. The next government must institute a immediate jiudicial enquiry for the entire UK into the conduct of this and recent elections with particular refernce to postal voting.
Labour are going to fight as dirty as possible and fiddled postal votes will be par for the course for them and they are bound to "lose" the evidence given half a chance.

ps- any judges appointed to this enquiry should be new ones because the whole jiudiciary is tainted with the stinck of Blairand Brown. There aint many of them left with an independent frame of mind.
This another area for a complete clearout.

Rush-is-Right said...

Not a sheep.... dead right.

Voter fraud lies at the heart of the New Labour project. It's what they do best, in fact it's the only thing they do well.

And it's worth contemplating that in Massachusetts on Tuesday the voter fraud operation customary in there didn't get off the ground because Brown was not thought to be a possible winner until it was too late to get organised. Otherwise the guys at Acorn would have delivered for the Democrats as usual.

David Boothroyd said...

Vervet, you mis-spelled the word "I" at the beginning of your final sentence.

There is practically no opportunity for "funny business" (electoral fraud) in the conduct of elections in the period between the close of the poll and the count. The ballot boxes are sealed and taken to a secure centre where they are guarded until the count begins, at which point the seals are checked to make sure they are unbroken.

In the whole of electoral history, taking all of O'Malley and Hardcastle and all the other authorities, there has never been a single case where a ballot box was tampered with after the close of poll but before the count. Would-be electoral fraudsters have invariably decided that other parts of the system are far easier to suborn. The argument against Friday morning counts on the basis of openness to electoral fraud is baseless and risible, even if it is a Chief Whip making it.

Moreover delaying counts until the morning used to be standard practice until relatively recently.

Unsworth said...

@ David Boothroyd

"In the whole of electoral history, taking all of O'Malley and Hardcastle and all the other authorities, there has never been a single case where a ballot box was tampered with after the close of poll but before the count. Would-be electoral fraudsters have invariably decided that other parts of the system are far easier to suborn."

Bollox. What you can say is that such a fraud has not been detected, but you cannot say say that it has never happened.

And you really do not have the slightest idea as to what electoral fraudsters may or may not have 'invariably decided', do you?

As to 'fairly recently' - your point is what? That we should go back to what happened in the past (define 'fairly recently'), or that things have not changed since then? If so, where does postal voting fit into your understanding and view of the history of electoral fraud?

Unknown said...

I bet most of the areas that don't want to count the vote on the night are Liebour ones. Gives them more chance to fix the vote.

The Tories should put their own tags on the ballot boxes.

Trust me that corrupt one eyed idiot won't go unless he's dragged out by his bitten dirty finger nails.

Matt Oliver said...

David Boothroyd speaks sense. Sorry Iain you are wrong on this one.

We all want Thurs night counts! Of course we do. However this is a serious case of politicans not understanding the implications of the legislation they passed in 2006
Some constituencies can count postal votes quickly on the night because they have less far to travel between polling stations collecting postal votes handed in on the day at regular shifts. Rural seats have more problems.

Also the machines used to verify the votes do break down at regular intervals. People should remember that officals in the seats counting on a Fri will prob be working all night verifying the postal votes in preperation for the count.

In terms of cost, this is not about money, as otherwise officers would follow the law and only check the minimum figure of 20% of postal votes. Because they want a fraud free count, officers are counting 100% even though the Govt only cover 20% of the cost.

You are right - a new bill is needed but can only be after the election. It is too late for legislation to be passed now to apply days before an election!

I know in meetings I have had with them that both Dominic Grieve and Eleanor Laing know this and will be takling action.

Man in a Shed said...

Why is it only as Labour is about to lose a general election that the counts can't take place at the same time they always have before ?

The public will suspect FRAUD, and given the lies Labour tells as a matter of course over key things like taking the country to war and the economy it will sound very credible.

Iain Dale said...

Matthew, could you explain to me please, using your logic, why North Norfolk is counting on the night. You don't get much more rural than that. 55 miles from one end to the other.

Matthew Dear said...

What in heavens name is David Boothroyd talking about? The law states that the counts must START as soon as is practiable, and all he's saying is that it must take longer. Never heard such nonsense and spin in all my life.

Suggest that most of the councils not counting on the night are not complying with the existing law!

Paddy Paws said...

I sit next to an elections manager at work and the problem is the increase in postal votes. People are anxious to have their vote this year but worried they may be on holiday/away on work.

The govt says quite a low sample of postal votes must be verified, but our council plans to check 100%, which will take time.

That said, it would be a great shame if we don't get a result on the night.

Anonymous said...

"This is an issue of national importance."

"Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic.. CAPTAIN MANNERING.."

Matt Oliver said...


You inadvertently hit the nail on the head! The situation is different in each constituency, hence the decision (re counts) should and does rest at local level.

It’s not just geographical factors ERO’s need to factor in. It’s also resources. I would be interested to know how many staff North Norfolk have working in electoral services. In some councils its one man and his dog! North Norfolk may have more runners than other councils, or maybe they happy with announcing early Friday morning.

As I said it’s also IT issues, with many councils having issues with the machines they need to use to verify the ballots. It may interest you to know that in the course of research I am doing to find out the increase per constituency in the number of people voting by post, some council’s have said they can’t tell how many people are registered to vote by post until the Prime Minister calls the election...because of their I.T. systems.

ERO’s and council electoral services are often overstretched through lack of funding and resources. The Electoral Commission is about to release a report stating how inaccurate the registers are in terms of people not being registered. Councils are meant to register new people as part of the annual canvass but most don’t have the resources to do a proper job. It will vary across the country how many times households are visited by canvassers to register people.

I repeat I am not defending the current situation. In an ideal world we would have Thursday night counts and Electoral Administration would receive the funding / attention from local and national Government it deserves. However we don’t live in an ideal world and it’s only now that an election is due that politicians are forced to pay attention to the issue. Electoral professionals have been highlighting these problems for years, as you probably know having been to the Agents Dinner at Conference.

You are right - we need to change things in a new Bill but legislative time has run out to do it this side of an election!

Unknown said...

If the count is delayed untill the next day there should be a constant police presence to ensure the ballot boxes are not touched.

Unsworth said...

@ mathew.oliver

So you're sugggesting that no others could be drafted in to count the votes? Why not?

Seems to happen elsewhere - and perfectly well.