Councils to delay election night counts

MORE than half a dozen councils in Suffolk and Essex are preparing to defy politicians and delay the General Election count to the day after polling.

Graham Dines

MORE than half a dozen councils in Suffolk and Essex are preparing to defy politicians and delay the General Election count to the day after polling.

Electoral staff in large rural constituencies face particular problems this year with the introduction of new rules on postal votes meaning extra checks have to be carried out to prevent ballot fraud.

The results from Waveney, Central Suffolk and Ipswich North and Saffron Walden will not be known until around lunchtime on the day after the election, while decisions have yet to be made for Suffolk Coastal, Bury St Edmunds, South Suffolk and Maldon. They are believed to be seriously considering Friday counts.

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Constituencies which will go-ahead with traditional overnight counts are Ipswich, West Suffolk, Clacton, Colchester, Harwich and North Essex, Braintree, Witham and Chelmsford.

It is expected that counts in up to 200 seats nationwide will not start counting until Friday morning, which could delay the overall outcome of the General Election until around teatime on the Friday.

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Government ministers, including the Leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman, the Speaker John Bercow, and MPs from all parties have condemned the count delays and have called on all returning officers to do their utmost to conduct the count as soon as the polls are closed.

A “keep election night special” motion before the Commons has been signed by more than 50 MPs, including Colchester Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, who said: “In a modern democracy, it should be possibly to count votes speedily.”

Suffolk Coastal wants to count overnight, but if elections to new unitary authorities take place on the same day, the General Election count will probably be delayed.

A spokesman said: “We expect to have in excess of 20,000 postal votes which all need verifying. Some will have to go to Lowestoft before being sent to the counting centre.”

Suffolk Coastal's Labour candidate Adam Leeder said he would be “very disappointed” if the district council does delay the start of the count.

“There is a special romance about election night and voters will not understand if they are kept waiting to known the outcome,” he said.

Andrew Good, chief executive of Mid Suffolk District Council who will be in charge of the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich count, has defended his decision to wait until the day after the election.

“Our assessment is that it would be unsafe to conduct the count overnight. We have more polling stations than most, many are isolated, and it can take 1.5 hours to get all the ballot boxes.”

Because the constituency covers three local authority areas, new postal vote rules required that verification of signatures be undertaken by election officials from the council in which the voter lived. “I doubt if counting would start before 1.30am at the earliest,” he said.

The new Clacton constituency will count overnight. Nigel Brown, spokesman for Tendring District Council, said: “It is a compact seat and we would hope to get under way soon after the close of poll at 10pm.”

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