Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 08:54 UK

Votes set to be counted overnight

Ballot box
Counting of the votes will take place overnight

The 2010 general election will be see votes cast in Northern Ireland being counted overnight for the first time.

Overnight counts did not take place for security reasons during the Troubles.

Ballot boxes from the polling stations were locked up overnight and the count started in the morning.

That meant that seats in Northern Ireland were usually the last in the UK to be declared, causing frustration among candidates, agents, political parties and the media.

In 1992, the four Belfast constituencies were counted overnight as a pilot scheme.

All four counts were extremely long and one required a re-count, because of the close margin of votes and possibly because evident staff fatigue did not inspire confidence in the party's agents.

The pilot was not considered satisfactory and overnight counts, except at by-elections have not been tried since.

Midnight

However, a consultation exercise by the NI Electoral Office in 2006/7 showed a high level of support for overnight counting.

To avoid the problem of fatigue, counting will not be carried out by staff who worked in polling stations instead a pool of more than 1,500 count assistants has been recruited.

They are expected to produce the first results around midnight and the remainder by the early hours of the following morning.

Douglas Bain, the Chief Electoral Officer, for Northern Ireland, is the Returning Officer for all eighteen constituencies.

He has appointed eight of his permanent staff as Deputy Returning Officers. Each will be responsible for either two or three constituencies.

Mr Bain said: "For the first time people in Northern Ireland will have all the results when they wake up the next morning.

"I believe that counting overnight will send a powerful signal throughout the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland has changed for the better"

Ironically, just as Northern Ireland announced it was moving to overnight counting many returning officers in England and Wales have said they are considering moving to next day counting, citing cost and convenience.

In future counts for district council and Northern Ireland Assembly elections, both of which operate on the much lengthier Single Transferable Votes system, will continue to be counted on the day after the poll.

Counts for the European Parliamentary elections, which cannot start until all the polls throughout Europe have closed, will continue to commence on the Monday following polling day.



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