The election in numbers

The Electoral Commission held their post-election seminar on Thursday morning in Belfast along with the Electoral Office (EONI) and Royal Mail. Representatives from local parties along with election staff and electoral observers were in attendance.

26 suspected absent ballot forgeries have been referred to the PSNI as a result of signature issues being “checked by a forensic expert at the NI Forensic Science Laboratory”.

78 postal ballots were found in a final sweep of NI Mail Centre on the evening of polling day and delivered to Electoral Offices at 9pm in time to be processed before the poll closed at 10pm.

230 centenarians were on the electoral register in Northern Ireland and able to vote on May 5th.

248 absent vote applications were rejected by EONI due to the signatures not matching the one captured on the original registration form. There was some discussion about older people’s signatures tend to change as well as changes as young people grow up from teens to twenties.

sorting Belfast West assembly votes - May 2011

6,000 polling staff were involved on polling day – a big increase on previous years.

17,124 late registrants were described as “a positive benefit of the early dispatch of the poll cards” which were posted out at the end of March along with publicity that ensured people who didn’t receive one had time to fill out the forms and get on the register in time for polling day.

17,641 eighteen year olds were registered.

23,800 postal votes (up from approx. 16,000 at Westminster 2010) and 4,800 proxy votes (up from 2,100) issued.

27,000 calls were received by the combined EONI/Electoral Commission freefone helpline during the election campaign, including approximately 1,600 on polling day. While 12,000 of these were dealing with registration enquiries and form requests as well as absent vote enquiries, it would be interesting to see the breakdown of the other 15,000 or so calls.

750,000 Electoral Commission booklets explaining the triple polls to NI households.

1,000,000 referendum leaflets sent out. 1,000,000 by the No campaign; 0 by the Yes campaign. Despite this, NI was less negative about changing the Westminster voting system (43.68% Yes, 56,32% No) than the rest of the UK (overall 32.1% Yes, 67.9% No).

1,205,530 polling cards were issued by the Electoral Office and delivered by Royal Mail.

8,200,000 items of candidate literature delivered by Royal Mail, including 5.1m for Assembly (3.7m addressed, 1.4m unaddressed) and 3.1m Council (all addressed). Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which gives council candidates a free leaflet mailing.

The event was deliberately upbeat – looking at what had worked well as well as looking at some of the early lessons from shortcomings in the process. Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shields described the election as “a mixture of highs and lows”.

Analysis of how processes could be improved is still in the early stages. Political parties are still collating their feedback for the Electoral Office, and the Electoral Commission report has yet to be produced. Graham Shields commented:

I can give you assurances that where lessons can be learned they will be.

He went on to say that he was keen to find ways of optimising the speed of the count with sacrificing the accuracy. Some potential options may be considered, including:

  • 16 constituency-based counts (diluting the most experienced staff and likely to require collaboration with local councils);
  • centralised e-counting.

It also seems very likely that there will be attempts to introduce a private members bill to ban election posters. A number of politicians from across a number of parties are interested in removing what has become a costly yet ineffective campaign tool. Some stalwarts will moan, and small parties will protest.