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BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson reports:
"Unlike in other parts of the United Kingdom, the vote counting in Northern Ireland will not start until Friday"
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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
'Steady' polling in NI elections
Voting in the general election is by means of an X
An X marks the spot in the general election
Voting is under way in polling stations across Northern Ireland for both the local government and general elections.

Turnout is thought to be steady in most stations, and higher than usual in North Down.

The polls have been open since 0700 BST and will remain open until 2200 BST.

It is the first time that the local government and Westminster elections have been held here on the same day.

DUP leader Ian Paisley casts his vote
DUP leader Ian Paisley casts his vote
A total of 100 candidates, including one who is standing in all four Belfast constituencies, are contesting 18 parliamentary seats.

In the council elections, 982 hopefuls are in the running for 582 local council seats.

It is the fifth time the province's electorate is going to the polls in five years.

Unlike other parts of the UK, there will be no overnight counting of ballot papers.

Counting in the Westminster election will begin about lunchtime on Friday. The first result is expected later that afternoon.

SDLP leader John Hume at the polling station
SDLP leader John Hume at the polling station
This is because electoral staff first have to undertake a detailed audit of the local government election ballot boxes.

They have been told to make sure that parliamentary ballot papers have not been put in by mistake.

The electorate will be faced with two radically different electoral systems - first past the post for Westminster and proportional representation for the 26 district council elections.

To make it easier, the electoral office has colour-coded the poll cards, ballot papers and ballot boxes - white for the general election and lilac for the council contest.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams casts his vote
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams casts his vote

In the Westminster election, voters simply put an x beside their favourite, whilst in the local election voters have to list their candidates in order of preference.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday morning, Northern Ireland Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley appealed to people who can vote outside the "rush-hour" time from 1800 BST to 2230 BST, to do so.

He said: "One of our great concerns is that it will take people a bit longer to do two ballot papers, so we are asking people to come outside the rush hour-time by voting in the morning or early afternoon if they can."

He added that he would be watching proceedings closely, as it is his first election in this role.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble casts his vote
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble casts his vote
"I certainly want it to go right. We've been very busy, as you can imagine," he said. "A lot of planning has gone into this.

An army of 2,000 poll clerks and counting clerks have been drafted in to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

About 40,000 applications have been made for postal votes and Mr Stanley is aware that this system could be open to abuse.


Mr Stanley said it would be some time before the province introduced voting on the internet or other hi-tech methods.

Denis Stanley: First poll as chief electoral officer
Denis Stanley: First poll as chief electoral officer
"I think we would want to see if the technology is proven elsewhere. But we are very keen to look at all sorts of voting systems that may be useful in the future.

"We want to ensure that they are totally secure and don't open another method of abusing the system," he added.

He called on people to bring along their poll cards if possible on the day, but stressed that they are not necessary to cast a vote.

Voters in Northern Ireland must produce identification such as a current driver's licence, passport, benefits book, medical card or British seaman's card.

In most areas, voters will only have to go to one polling station, but there are some exceptions.

Suffolk Primary School in west Belfast is the location for the Westminster poll, but to vote in the local council election people have to journey more than a mile to a polling station in Dunmurry.


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