At the end of last summer, the media was buzzing with fears that right at the moment that Northern Ireland was re-embracing overnight counts, many English local authorities were threatening to pull out of nocturnal calculations at the General Election.
As you’d expect, a Facebook group was formed, and electoral officers (described by Tory MP Peter Bone as “tin-pot, upstart little town clerks”) across the UK were surveyed to find out their plans.
By January 2010, BBC Newsnight’s Michael Crick was reporting that 52 constituencies had confirmed they’d be counting on Friday morning, with another 187 undecided. He predicted that over 100 seats wouldn’t be declared until sometime in daylight hours on Friday.
The voter fraud legislation introduced in 2005 now forces “election administrators have to check all postal votes to see that voters’ signatures and dates of birth comply with those on the application form. By law they have to check 20% of the postal votes, but the Electoral Commission guidelines suggest ALL postal votes should be checked”. (We already have much stricter legislation and rules in NI.)
With an enormous number of postal ballots issued, and the ability for voters to hand them in on the day at their polling station – unlink NI where they must be delivered by post or hand to the EONI address on the envelope – local authorities were facing increased costs for the extra staff they’d need to employ overnight.
With that number of ballot boxes uncounted, the chances of any party conceding the election in the middle of the night seemed low.
But in the latest information from the Electoral Commission reveals that the tide has turned.
Only 22 constituencies now plan to begin counting on Friday morning. 627 still plan to count overnight. And one constituency – Thirsk and Malton – has postponed its election until 27 May due to the death of the UKIP candidate John Boakes.
So while an overnight concession may still be unlikely, it’ll not be down to ballot papers locked in town halls.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.