Monday, 7 September 2009

Giles McNeill supports Campaign to Save General Election Night

Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome is spearheading a campaign that is calling on local government to save general election night.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday, an increasing number of 'killjoy' councils are planning to postpone their local counts until the Friday after polling, thereby killing any sense of excitement that traditionally surrounds the most important night in the political calendar.

Jonathan has provided first-rate reasons for opposing this move in the Facebook group he has set up (and I would urge you to join).

My reasons believing that election counts should happen immediately after the polls close are:

• No candidate wants to be forced to wait extra (and for the individuals concerned an excruciating) number of hours before finding out their fate. Imagine if Paula Radcliffe having run the London Marathon and set a new world record had been told "We will post your result out to you tomorrow, second class"!

• We want to know who won as soon as possible, once the polling stations have closed. On a constituency level, but more significantly on a national level: if the general election is going to be close, then it is possible that if lots of seats are not counting until Friday (especially marginals) then we will not know who is going to be Prime Minister, form the Government and so forth until Friday lunchtime or afternoon.

• Whilst we may not know how many people have been engaged with politics by the drama and tension of Thursday night election coverage on television I suspect finding out the results the following afternoon when at work (or a couple of days later in the case of the recent European elections) really would kill any fizz.

• In the digital '24-hour media age' when we are used to getting news quicker than ever before, it would be a backward step to delay election counts. If anything, we should be seeking to persuade the few constituencies which historically count on a Friday to bring their counts forward to Thursday night.

• Sitting around the television into the early hours is an election night ritual for people across the land, many of whom do not perhaps follow politics closely on a daily basis. But if there are fewer results to announce - and the potential of not getting a national result to boot - they are less likely to bother tuning in and when the remaining constituencies declare and the national result becomes apparent on the Friday, anyone at work is not going to be able to witness the climax of the electoral process.

• The outside broadcasts at counts up and down the country have provided many a memorable moment over the years, bringing the results to life. However, the reason why broadcasters are able to provide such a variety is that there is no other call on the satellite trucks and outside broadcast units during the night. If there were an increasing number of counts on Friday during the day, fewer of them would have cameras present, thereby reducing the ability of the broadcasters to give full coverage of the results.

• The traditional British way of doing elections is to have people come out to vote and then count the ballot papers immediately afterwards. It's how we do it and what we're used to - I personall spoke to a number of electors during the most recent local and european elections who could not understand why we would have results for local elections on Thursday night for the County Council and Sunday for the European election (granted their is a good reason, but most electors want our traditions upheld).

• Security is a less important concern, but worth a mention all the same. There is somethng very worring about increasingly, millions of ballot papers being left overnight before being counted.

General elections only happen every four or five years. Is it really too much to ask of local authority staff that counts actually take place in the same way they have been carried out for generations?

UPDATE

I have spoke to Leader of City of Lincoln Council, Cllr. Darren Grice who has confirmed to me that it is the council's intention to hold evening counts as has been custom and practice in recent elections.

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