As an election observer, today’s the day when you get to visit lots of polling stations. Having started my morning at an away day in Ballymena in the delightful surrounds of the ecos Centre I toured around a few North Antrim polling stations before heading back towards Belfast East, Belfast West and Lagan Valley.
I picked up a lot of comments that the colour of the different ballot papers weren’t sufficiently distinct – despite input from RNIB – particularly when viewed under the variable lighting conditions of school assembly halls and classrooms. Polling staff mentioned that some elderly people were saying they had trouble reading the text on the buff papers.
There was also criticism that the STV ballot papers weren’t labelled on the front with “Council” and “Assembly” or even the name of the constituencies/districts at the top. (It is printed in small text on the reverse of the ballot papers, but voters don’t look there.)
Staff in a number of polling stations reported that some older voters had voted by placing multiple Xs on their STV ballot papers, with more cancelled/reissued ballot papers than previous elections.
Political opponents were impressed that the DUP had driven past St Matthew’s primary school in Short Strand early this morning, lifted out an A-frame before driving off. I was impressed that the sign was still there seven hours later.
Sinn Fein managed to park their branded 4×4 for a while in St Kevin’s primary school car park on the Falls Road breaching that particular rule.
Not all polling stations had roadside signage. Gracehill primary school is set in a distance from the main road. The first sign to say this was the polling station was on the door of the school building situated at the end of the car park and invisible from the footpath.
Some polling stations had a myriad of corridors to navigate to reach the polling rooms. Thankfully most had “way out” signage to allow voters to retrace their steps.
There was quite a shuffle of polling stations in Lagan Valley, with some new venues and reports of voters turning up at the wrong buildings having not read their polling cards.
Trinity Methodist – whose hall is also doubles up as the church sanctuary – was an odd sight with polling booths and ballot boxes scattered across the wooden floor, and a pulpit and large cross clearly visible at one end of the hall. Voting in a place of worship – rather than just a church hall – was raising eyebrows around the neutrality of the venue.
It is clear that the split of Lagan Valley constituency between incumbent Basil McCrea and new candidate Mark Hill was anything but even. “We took that as a decision that we want to make sure we go out 50:50” was how Basil described their strategy at the UUP manifesto launch. However, voters received a leaflet through the post on Wednesday that only referred to Basil, and didn’t name his running mate Mark Hill. Estimates are an 80/20 split in favour of Basil – which should secure his seat in the Assembly, but may not overly help Mark Hill.
In the past day, extra posters for a younger-looking Basil went up near polling stations. One is clearly from a past election, with the imprint naming a different agent to the one Basil declared on his forms this year.
Asked about it, Basil brushed off the old posters saying that there were only five or six across the constituency and it had been down to someone picking up the wrong ones. He also pointed to the requirement for the agent name to be printed was just about providing an easy way of responding to inaccurate/outrageous content.
However, the lack of imprints is also an issue for UUP council candidate Ronnie Crawford who had tied a long canvass banner to the railings near Killowen primary school. No imprint on the front or back of this elongated “poster”.
Timetable for Friday/Saturday:
Verification of the papers in the ballot boxes starts at 8am in the eight counting centres. That will generate the precise turnout figures and set the quotas for each Assembly constituency and council district. Verification is also the opportunity parties have to tally the ballot papers – sampling perhaps 100 from each ballot box to allow them to interpolate the eventual first preference results and get a picture of their support within constituencies.
Counting of Assembly votes is expected to follow, with attention switching to the referendum votes being counted across the UK starting at 4pm. Assembly counting will restart after the referendum is done and dusted. Counting is unlikely to continue beyond 11pm, restarting on Saturday to complete the Assembly before council staff start to count local government ballots on Monday morning.