Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 18:03 UK

Election count might be delayed

David Dimbleby on the BBC election programme
Could the future election specials be all-night-and-next-morning marathons?

The traditional excitement of election night is under threat from councils who are considering delaying the counting of votes until the following morning.

Electoral returning officers in as many as one in four constituencies are contemplating ending overnight counts.

The Norwich North by-election count was held in the morning. Returning officers decide when their local count happens.

New postal voting rules and higher staff costs are among reasons thought to be behind those considering delays.

Newcastle upon Tyne has reportedly already opted for a Friday count in the next election and several others including those in Leeds, York and Gloucestershire are considering it.

Eliminating fraud

In an attempt to combat fraud, the Electoral Administration Act 2006 brought in rules meaning that both the signature and date of birth of all postal voters must be checked before the votes can be counted.

While some postal votes can be counted early, many are only handed into the various polling stations on the day.


The new rules mean more staff are needed - with higher costs for overnight work - and will delay the start of counting after polls close at 2200 BST on election day.

Colin Bland, who was the returning officer in the Norwich North by-election, said this would have been the case in Norwich North, where they had about 13,000 postal votes in July's by-election.

He said that leaving the count until Friday benefited all involved: "The reality was that everyone had a good night's sleep, they (candidates and staff) were all good-humoured, and worked efficiently. Most importantly, we got an accurate result."

But Jonathan Isaby, who has set up the Save General Election Night group on the social networking website Facebook, said people "enjoyed" staying up and waiting for results.

His campaign argues that delaying the count would be a "backward step" in an era of instant communications and that fewer people would follow the results on television.

John Turner, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said that the new postal voting rules would have an impact.

"Complications related to boundary changes and postal votes are, we think, likely to be the driver for it [delaying the count]."

But Mr Turner said excitement would not suffer, adding: "I imagine that what will happen is a crescendo at about 11 or 12 o'clock on Friday morning."

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