Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 12:49 UK

Sunderland hopes to be first to declare

By Claire Kendall
BBC News

Man carrying a ballot box
Sunderland council has reported the first result for four elections in a row

When it comes to election results night there's one city whose name we hear first: Sunderland.

Sunderland City Council takes a lot of pride in having been the first to declare a constituency result in all the last four general elections.

Ballot papers from the three Sunderland constituencies will be counted at Sunderland Tennis Centre on Thursday.

Boundary changes mean votes are being cast this year in Houghton and Sunderland South, Washington and Sunderland West, and Sunderland Central.

The 2005 election was the council's proudest moment. It made history by declaring the first three results on the night - Sunderland South at 2245, Sunderland North at 2325 and Houghton and Washington East at 2332.

That was some achievement when you think that polling stations don't shut until 2200, and then the boxes have to be taken to the central counting point.

Efficiency over speed

Sunderland's election officer, Bill Crawford, says the aim is to continue that record this time around, and nothing is being left to chance.

To make sure the ballot boxes get quickly into Sunderland Tennis Centre a group of local school children are being employed to swiftly pass them down a line.

The council's election team has learnt from past counts too. One year they found they had finished a little slower than anticipated, so changed the weight of their voting papers from 100 grams to 80 grams, making them easier to handle.

And voters are under strict instructions to fold their papers only once, from north to south.

Mr Crawford says plans are also being made for the unexpected: they have spare counters in the wings should it be a particularly high turn out, an emergency generator is available in case there's a power cut, and a spare room has been set aside should there be any problems in the main counting room.

The counters take their job very seriously and stress that they pride themselves on efficiency over speed.

Many of them work in banks where they regularly count paper at speed. All have their own tried and tested methods, often preferring rubber thumbs to moist finger sponges which can cost valuable seconds.

We may all be watching the results of election night to see if there's a hung parliament, but Sunderland assure us that all eyes will be on them at the start of the night as they aim to make declaration history again.



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