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Nine Reasons Why We Should Count Votes The Day After The General Election

'Election night' is a tradition in UK politics, whereby votes at General Elections are counted immediately after polls close at 10pm and results from constituencies declared throughout the night. But is there really any need for us to count votes in the early hours of the morning? In this post I suggest why it would be better to do it the next day instead.

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1. More people will watch the declaration of results

DieselDemon / Via Flickr: 28096801@N05

We all remember watching those seismic moments in electoral history... Britain's first female Prime Minister being elected in 1979, Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997, the dramatic finale to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Actually, we don't, because most of us were asleep as all of this happened. The declaration of a General Election result is the most important event in British democracy, and a great opportunity to engage the electorate. But only political geeks are prepared to stay up all night waiting for it to happen. The rest of the population is in bed.

2. It will make it easier to prevent electoral fraud

Ian Britton / Via Flickr: freefoto

As the number of people choosing to vote by post has increased in recent years, so have concerns over the potential for electoral fraud. There are strong mechanisms in place to check the validity of all postal votes, but these take time. Returning Officers are required to check at least 20% of all postal ballots they receive, and will often try to check a much higher proportion. The problem is, many postal votes do not arrive until election day itself, meaning that there is very little time to check them. If we move counting the next day, this will allow more time for robust monitoring for potential fraud.

3. Tired people make mistakes

Julius Schorzman / Via en.wikipedia.org

It's rare for the UK's diligent election administrators to make mistakes, but it happens. For instance in 2012 in Denbighshire a stack of ballot papers were wrongly allocated to one election candidate, because his name was similar to his opponent's. In 1999 in Doncaster, the Returning Officer declared the wrong candidate to be elected, a declaration that had legal standing despite being based on a mistake. Of course, daytime counting wouldn't eradicate all mistakes, but why take the risk with something so important?

4. Many Returning Officers want to count the next day

Alan Cleaver / Via Flickr: alancleaver

In the run-up to the 2010 election, a sizeable number of Returning Officers responding to an Electoral Commission survey said they were going to count General Election votes the day after the election, in a break with tradition. Arguably Returning Officer is the person best-placed to make this judgement - he/she is responsible for the security and accuracy of the count, the cost to the public purse and the wellbeing of staff. But at the last minute Parliament stepped in and added a clause to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to ensure that counting begin within four hours of polls closing.

5. Surely being the first constituency to declare isn't something to celebrate

Huw Williams / Via commons.wikimedia.org

In 2010 the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency was the first to declare its result, doing so just 52 minutes after polls closed. This is very big achievement for those involved in the count, and other members of the community who helped transport the votes quickly to the count centre. But it was only made possible because turnout was so low: 55%, compared to the national average of 65%. I'd prefer if turnout was so large that we can't count all the votes in one night, let alone one hour.

6. Election night is boring. Really boring.

University of Essex / Via Flickr: universityofessex

The presenter has nothing to say. The guests in the studio have nothing to say. They cut to a report from a count centre somewhere, and the reporter has nothing to say. Oh wait, the declaration from Barnsley Central has just come in... and it's the same result as it always is... and nobody has anything to say. At least if the count was during the day you could switch over and watch a bit of Judge Judy between declarations.

7. We already count many election results the next day

Motiqua / Via Flickr: motiqua

As with many British political traditions, election night isn't as traditional as it seems. For many local elections, counting already takes place the next day. For European Parliament elections, results cannot be declared until three days later because countries vote at different times and the announcement must be coordinated - kind of like Eurovision but less important.

8. If no party wins a majority, we don't find out the result on election night

Nick Clegg / Via en.wikipedia.org

After we elected a hung parliament in 2010 it took nearly a week to form a new government, and in 2015 it could take even longer. The Belgian election of 2010 didn't produce a government until 353 days later. Are you prepared to stay awake until 25th April 2016?

9. When we introduce online voting, election night will be history anyway

Heinrich Boll Stiftung / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Okay, so this might not happen in the near future, but surely it's inevitable. We do everything else online, and if we can manage the security risks then voting will be the same. When that happens, we'll get the result by asking someone from IT to press a button after polls close, and boom, instant election night.

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