At the end of a hard fought campaign for candidates and parties comes the intensity of the count. All eyes are on the hundreds of count venues as thousands of count staff begin the all-important task of sorting through and counting ballots cast across the country.
To give you a sense of the scale of the task, consider that during 2011’s AV Referendum, there were 400 count venues where 80,500 people were employed to count the 19.3 million votes that had been cast.
This year the Commission has asked all (Acting) Returning Officers (AROs) to tell us when they intend to start counting, so we can make this information available. AROs have a “duty to 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” (Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010). This became law just before the 2010 General Election and means that as polls close at 10pm, counting should begin by 2am. In areas where the situation is more complex, for example because there are other elections taking place, some AROs have opted to start counting later. The priority is to have a count that ensures secrecy of ballots and an accurate result through a transparent process.
Given the number of people involved and the different stages, it can be difficult to understand what’s going on if you aren’t familiar with the process. Here’s what happens…
There are two stages at every count – verification and the actual count.
Once ballot boxes are moved from polling stations to a central counting centre, the process of verification begins. Verification is the process whereby the account of the number of completed ballot papers from each polling station is compared against the number inside the ballot box. This stage is about the total number of ballot papers that are counted, as opposed to the votes cast for each candidate.
The second part of the process is the count itself, which is when ballot papers from all polling stations are mixed and the votes cast for each candidate are totalled up. Previously, in areas where local election ballots were being counted at the same time, ballots cast for both types of elections would have to be verified before counting began. It is now possible to start counting ballots for parliamentary elections when only the verification for these ballots have been completed, which should speed up the process.
In the coverage of count venues up and down the UK there are lots of people in the background and you might wonder who they all are. In addition to the candidates and count staff you there will be guests of candidates, election agents, media and sometimes also accredited observers.
After the count comes the all-important declaration of result. You will mostly likely see the candidates file onto stage and listen while the Returning Officer formally reads out the number of votes recorded for each candidate, and then declare the candidate who polled the most votes to be duly elected to serve in parliament.
The declaration may be delayed if there are recounts. A recount will take place where the result is close to make sure it is accurate. The best way to find out the results is to keep glued to the news and social media or check your local authority website media as they will be updated in real time.
Director of Communications