Gosh, 2 posts in the one day. Wonders will never cease, especialy as this is my 152nd post (i somehow missed my 150th post...)
OK I am late in coming to this topic, after all both Tom Harris & Iain Dale have both blogged on the prospect of the result of the next Westminster Elections not being known until late on the Friday. I have been kind of ambivalent on the subject, at least until the subject came up on today’s Daily Politics’ show.
The BBC got Katy Clarke, an MP for New Labour and the former king of the Swing-o-meters Peter Snow to make the case for having as many of the counts go ahead straight after the close of polls as possible, and Newcastle councillor Gerry Keating arguing for the counts going ahead on the Friday morning. The arguments for holding counts as soon as the polls close appeared to be based purely on preserving the coverage and drama of election night, which it was argued promotes politics and democracy in an apathetic age. While I agree about the drama of Election night, the example given was the “Portillo moment” – which while it was satisfying to see an up to that point arrogant politician felled by the electorate the reaction of Mellor to his defeat was much more of a memorable moment (unfortunaely, we got more of him on 606), I couldn’t help but be swung by Gerry Keating’s arguments.
Gerry’s arguments were based around having to arrange their count for the Friday for accuracy purposes. In the age of postal votes, he argued that it was not possible for an accurate count to be made on the Thursday night, unless either electronic voting or earlier closure of the polls (he advocated 8pm closure) were brought in. Therefore to ensure accuracy, Friday counting was a must for Newcastle council. I would have thought that this was an irresistible argument considering how much scorn we in the UK poured on the US 9 years ago for their inability to organise an election. Its scary enough that the problems still remain in the USA regarding Election reporting i.e. reporting exit polls as the actual result. More recently the 2007 Holyrood Elections were marred by counting machines, brought in to speed up the counting process, which couldn’t read the ballot papers (as it turns out a lot of the electorate couldn’t read the over complicated ballot-papers either).
Forgotten in the argument for an Election night is the fact that most people don’t stay up to all hours desperate to find out what happened in that key 3 way marginal in Norfolk. Most people go to bed when the polls point one way or another. In 1992, we went to bed when it was clear that Major was going to win, and that was about 1:30-2am. Major didn’t actually win until about Lunchtime on the Friday. Confirmation of Thatcher’s first election win came late afternoon on the Friday. The point is most people do not stay up all night as they have work the next day, they go to bed when they see which way the runes are reading.
Friday counts can be exciting, I remember listening to the results of the first Welsh Assembly come in while at work, and also a couple of years ago sneaking a peak at the BBC website when the regional top up votes were counted for Holyrood. I don’t think late Thursday counts should be kept at the sacrifice of accuracy.