Monday, September 07, 2009

Tell you what, I'll get some sleep and count in the morning...

I've had an invitation to join a Facebook group intended to rally support for those who want counts to take place overnight following a general election.

I've been something of an election junkie for thirty years, thinking nothing of staying up into the early hours of the morning, eagerly awaiting the results from Skipton and Ripon, or Clwyd West, or wherever. I've been a Returning Officer for twenty-five, first for my student union and then for the Party. Hell, I even watch when BBC Parliament broadcast historic election nights even though I know how the story ended. But I think that I'll leave my dance card unmarked this time.

You see, I'm not convinced that the rush to count serves any useful purpose other than to satisfy the anoraks amongst us (begging your pardon, Dr Pack). Counting requires accuracy and alertness, and few of us are great in those respects at two in the morning. If our democracy is so valuable, it is surely worth ensuring that those who administrate it are at their most effective.

And those errors are important. As our agent in Dulwich and West Norwood in 2005, I was advised that we were third, just 98 votes behind the Conservatives. A bundle check was promptly called, and 450 of our votes were found in the Conservative piles, with 50 of their votes on top. Further study uncovered 250 Labour votes in the Conservative basket, putting us 1,052 votes ahead of them. Would I have sought a bundle check had we been 300 votes behind? Probably not. It was four in the morning, everyone was tired, concentration was beginning to falter, we'd all had a long day.

The fact that, in some circumstances, an election could be won or lost from sheer tiredness and inattentiveness worries me to some extent, and having fresh counters, fresh presiding officers and fresh counting agents would likely reduce the error rate.

Of course, there is a cost element too. Overtime payments add to the burden to the hard pressed taxpayer and, whilst the amounts might be small in relative terms, it all adds up.

And finally, suspicions about delay could be allayed by having the boxes kept under seal, witnessed by the agents if preferred. In rural districts like Mid Suffolk, we count county and district elections the next morning, with no controversy thus far. There is such a thing as paranoia, you know...

3 comments:

Jennie said...

Calderdale always start their counts in the morning. At least this way we won't always be last...

Mark Valladares said...

Jennie,

Does that mean that you'll have to get up early? ;)

Jennie said...

Nope. It means I put the radio on when I'm in bed. :P Mat goes to counts, but not I.