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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Sunderland aims at count record
An election count
Bank tellers are sometimes used for the count
An election record could be set on Thursday if Sunderland South can declare its result first for the fourth poll running.

In 2001, the constituency's result was out just 43 minutes after the polls closed but election officers stress accuracy is their most important task.

Election day sees an army of officials working in 48,000 polling stations.

The political parties will also have tellers working at the polls so they can target their last-minute campaigns.

Quick counting

Sunderland began its run of first declarations in 1992, the year when it became a city and its football team was in the FA Cup final.

To mark the year, council officials decided they would try to deliver the election result on the same day as the polls took place.

In the process, they were faster than any other constituency, a title maintained in 1997 and 2001.

It's nice to have the first return, that is the icing on the cake
Sunderland Council spokesman

When polling stations close at 2200 BST, vans will be ready to take the ballot boxes across the city to the count - although council officials stress no speed limits will be broken.

Bank tellers are among those chosen for the count and a council spokesman said the team was used to working together and calm temperaments were another key attribute.

The spokesman added: "The returning officer would stress the important thing is efficiency and accuracy in the count.

"It's nice to have the first return, that is the icing on the cake."

The council is also keen to have a high turnout.

Poll pay

Election officers have already begun checking that postal ballots are valid, although have not counted the votes for each party.

Each polling station is staffed by poll clerks and supervised by presiding officers. They are often ex-council staff.

The clerks are paid 190 a day in inner London, 145 a day in outer London and 105 elsewhere.

Presiding officers receive 275 a day in inner London, 205 in outer London and 175 elsewhere.

Where there are local elections happening as well, poll clerks receive an extra 25 and presiding officers another 40.

Turnout check

Each political party normally has tellers outside polling stations who ask voters for their name or polling card number.

The idea is that they can check who has voted against the lists of people who told canvassers they would back their party.

The parties can then chase up those yet to vote in the last grab to ensure their vote turns out.

There are no specific laws governing the activities of tellers.

Election laws do bar anybody from exerting "undue influence" over how somebody voting, which would cover threatening behaviour.

There are some unusual places being used as polling stations on Thursday.

They include the bedroom of hairdresser Carmelia Bond's bungalow in Chettisham, Cambridgeshire. She first offered her home as a polling station 25 years ago when the village hall closed.

In Chittering, Cambridgeshire, a caravan in a car park of the Travellers Rest pub has been turned into a polling station.