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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 15:08 GMT
Electronic count is 'way forward'
By Nuala McCann
BBC News website

Counting of votes
Counting is under way in eight count centres
The days of counting votes by hand in a process which could take up to 48 hours are numbered, Northern Ireland's chief electoral officer has said.

As counting got under way in eight count centres, Douglas Bain said he hoped to introduce a new electronic scanning system.

This would means votes could be counted in hours, not days.

"This is my embryonic thinking. The gift is not mine. But I'll be pressing the government for it," he said.

With a scanner, vote counting could begin immediately after polling centres across Northern Ireland shut - traditionally at 2200 GMT.

Instead of eight centres across Northern Ireland, one or two would be sufficient.

In terms of time, results which take two days to count could be scanned and counted electronically in just a few hours, Mr Bain said.

"Electronic scanning is widely used internationally," he said.

"But the real trial for us will be in May in Scotland. They are holding elections to both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish councils at the same time. It is the first time that they are using the Single Transferable Vote.

"Their system is more complicated than ours. We will be watching to see how that goes."

In Scotland, under the new system, it is estimated that the number of staff needed will be reduced by two thirds.

In the current Northern Ireland count, about 1,080 people are employed.

The count got under way on Thursday morning and is expected to continue on Friday.





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