Paul Maskey’s coronation to continue Sinn Fein’s reign in West Belfast would have required some kind of enormous scandal to have brewed up earlier this week to spoil his chances – and even the ongoing, rumbling Mary McArdle story wasn’t enough to do that.
The Electoral Office wanted a slick, faster-than-expected result to cancel out some of the bad publicity surrounding the referendum and Assembly election counts five weeks ago. One constituency, ninety or so counting staff, first past the post, and a small turnout all worked for them on this occasion.
Each table (or ‘set’) of three people verified a ballot box and looked to be presorting the Maskey and non-Maskey votes to make the actual count that bit faster. With the numbers verified as matching the number of ballots issued in the polling station, the same table then counted the ballots. Repeat for a second box and it was all over bar the totting up and spreadsheets.
Two o’clock would have been a decent enough time for a declaration. But with what looked like every deputy returning officer east of the Bann in the Nugent Hall at Balmoral helping out, and no sign of hairdryers or lost ballot boxes, the declaration was made shortly before a quarter to one.
The 37.53% turnout was low. Unionist parties reckoned that areas like the Shankill were even lower at around 20% turnout. The Electoral Office website was updated overnight with the full results.
In terms of an electoral mandate from the overall constituency, Paul Maskey’s birthday present of 16211 votes (70.31% share) is only just over a quarter (26.38%) of the potential voters.
The SDLP were a little disappointed at their vote – a couple of percent more would have been a healthier result.
People Before Profit were the only party to increase their vote and promised to continue campaigning in the constituency.
The DUP were pleased with 6% – they needed 5% to retain their deposit. Brian Kingston claimed in his speech to have increased the DUP’s share of the unionist vote in West Belfast.