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Why Wales Should Count in the Morning

[NOTE: This piece was drafted prior to the suggestion being made that the EU membership referendum might be held on the same day as the devolved elections in 2016.)

 

This piece constitutes something of a change of direction for the Blog. We’ve spent a lot of time over recent weeks and months looking at the general election, and at the support levels of the parties. This has all been fairly data-heavy: i.e. grounded in the quantitative evidence of surveys and election results.

Today, I hope you might permit me to indulge in a little bit of, largely evidence-free, editorialising. I’d like to make the case for changing one specific feature of how next year’s National Assembly for Wales election is run. Specifically, I’d like to propose that the votes in this election be counted not overnight, as has normally been the case, but on the following morning.

Each voter in next year’s devolved elections, in both Scotland and Wales, will have two votes. One is for an individual representative in their constituency. The second is for a party; that vote will be used to allocate the four regional list seats within each of the five regions of Wales. (For more details on how the electoral system in National Assembly elections works, see here). The voter receives two ballot papers. (They tried using a single ballot paper, and machine counting of those papers, in Scotland in 2007, but that did not go well.) Once you have selected your preferred constituency candidate, and preferred party on the list, you then take both ballot papers and place them in the same ballot box.

Once the polls close at 10pm, the sealed ballot boxes will be transported to the relevant counting centre. After the various verification checks are gone through, the ballot papers then have to be separated into constituency and list ballots. (They usually make them different colours, which helps). Then the counting can begin. Most places seem to count and declare the constituency contests first. Even so, in recent elections it has taken quite a long time for the first results to come in, and many of them haven’t been declared until about 3am or 4am – some five to six hours after the close of poll.

It hasn’t always been like this. In the inaugural National Assembly election in 1999, counting was done on the following morning. The same practice was followed in one region of Wales (north Wales) in 2011. I propose that we follow this practice across Wales next May.

Why, you might well ask. Well, I see two advantages to Wales in counting the following morning. The first is that a morning count would help raise the profile of the National Assembly election results, both in Wales and across the rest of the UK. In the overnight election shows, the bulk of the attention of the media and public across the UK, and among some in Wales too I daresay, will be elsewhere: on the results for the Scottish Parliament election, and on the English local council elections. By counting simultaneously with those elections, we in Wales are pretty much guaranteeing that we will be only the third most-covered election story of the night. If we were to delay the count until the following day, there is some chance of the media across Britain paying rather more attention to Wales: with the bulk of the counts completed in Scotland and England, we would be the only major results coming out at that stage. This would therefore allow for greater media focus on Wales. Given the low levels of public and media knowledge of Welsh politics, I think we should do everything we reasonably can to help raise the profile of the election. And this would be one, small, thing that we easily could do. Gwnewch y pethau bychain!

The second reason for favouring doing the count the following morning is that it will allow the whole process to be done rather more efficiently. Instead of having people waiting around in the count centres until the ballot boxes arrive, and then having them working through the night, we can do it in a much better way. The teams of counters can all get a good night’s sleep (unless they are political obsessives, like me, who will be watching the Scottish and English results coming in through the night). Then, when they come in to do the count the following morning, all the ballot boxes can be in place and everything ready to go for when the count actually starts. That ought to allow the counting to be done much more speedily than it has been in recent Assembly elections.

This might seem a slightly odd thing to write about. I know that it’s not the most important issue facing the next Welsh Assembly election, by some way. Nonetheless, I hope that this is something that the powers-that-be consider. It is one (albeit very small) way in which I think we could make the next National Assembly election a little better, whatever the result.

Comments

  • Ifan Morgan Jones

    This is a good idea Roger. My only concerns with this would be:

    a) It may create the false impression that the Welsh election isn’t as important as the others. We’ll count the Scottish and English results first – the Welsh ones can wait until the morning.

    b) Election night is a ritual. It creates a sense of bonding among those that do it – an imagined community of the nation. If everyone is at work and the results arrive over lunch to a shrug of the shoulders you lose some of that.

    c) Exit polls and numbers of boxes etc will give us a good idea who has done well anyway. The long wait until the results are announced will create boredom on one hand, and also torture the poor candidates.

    d) All the British political heavyweights will stay up all night for the Scottish election results, then go to bed. The coverage given to the Welsh results will be an afterthought for Sky News etc.

    • Sian

      Mmmm! something to discuss and ponder over. Agree with you Roger Wales has disappeared since the election, I presume because Plaid didn’t increase it’s votes and the tories did, which questions where we are as a Nation. The Scots had a plan, and they went with their hearts and conscience

      • Roger Scully

        Well, Plaid did increase their votes, actually – and by almost as much as the Conservatives. But the Conservative increase was better targetted – hence their rise of three seats while Plaid remained static.

  • J.Jones

    As things stand it looks as though the EU in/ out referendum may be on the same day. Does Wales have the option of not counting at the same time as the rest of the UK? If it’s close everything may hinge on Wales’ vote. If its not close Wales is irrelevant. I don’t see either scenario as appealing.

    • Roger Scully

      Well, if the EU referendum is on the same day that will drown out pretty much everything else. I hope that doesn’t happen.

  • Harry Hayfield

    I am so glad that this debate is actually happening. When there was a discussion to hold the count for Election 2010 the following day everyone railed against it as if it was some unholy order. Having watched every general election since 1955, I wrote to the Electoral Commission offering my views and explained that a purely overnight count is a very recent invention.

    As there is only three hours of footage from 1955, the first general election that covers the overnight period is the 1959 general election and there it helpfully states that at the end of the overnight coverage 387 seats of the 635 seats had declared. At this election (assuming that you class 6.00am as the end of the overnight period) there were at least 449 seats declared out of 650.

    I myself would be very happy to have a Friday count for any election for the simple reason I am convinced that if people can actually see votes being counted (which they cannot at night as most sensible people are asleep) then they will think “Ah, in there is my vote, my vote is being counted, therefore I should make an effort to vote more often” and thus turnout is bound to improve

  • Emlyn Uwch Cych

    Election nerds like to stay up all night to watch the coverage. If we’re at work on the Friday, productivity will fall as we’ll be glued to our iPhones, waiting for each constituency to declare.

    Not only that, those in the know will already “know” the result, more or less, by midnight to 1 a.m., as the verification will no doubt take place soon after polls close. The talleymen and -women will keep their Twitter feeds updated, and bar the minutiae of the 4th list seat in each Region, we’ll have a pretty good picture.

    Having said all that, if the EU In-Out vote is held on the same day, it is very likely that verification will take many hours. Each ballot box will contain 4 different sorts of ballot paper. Separating and checking that lot will take most of the night. And just think of the logistics: the 2 Assembly ballots are counted by constituency, but the PCC and the EU ballots will be counted by Local Authority. Some boxes will have to be sent to other counting centres following verification, before the actual count can begin.

    We’ll still be waiting for the last result on Saturday!

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