Electoral Officer 'frustrated' by count

Published Tuesday, 27 May 2014
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The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland has said that he was frustrated by the slow European election count, calling for the introduction of an electronic system to speed up the process.

Electoral Officer 'frustrated' by count
The King's Hall in Belfast where the counting took place on Monday and Tuesday. (© Pacemaker)

Northern Ireland cast its vote in the European Parliament election last Thursday, with an increased turnout of 636,093, or 51.84% of the eligible electorate.

Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson, Diane Dodds of the DUP and Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson all booked their tickets back to Brussels after a marathon count in Belfast.

The name of the third returning MEP, Mr Nicholson, was announced on Tuesday evening, over 25 hours after the counting began on Monday morning using the single transferable vote (STV) method.

The delays have brought widespread criticism.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds, husband of Ms Dodds, described the situation as "a disgrace" and "an abuse of democracy".

"We are the last region in the European Union to actually not have declared its results," he said on Monday night.

"The Electoral Office needs to up its game. They simply haven't put enough staff in here to count the votes. We had a similar problem in the assembly election back in 2011.

"Lessons don't seem to be learned. For Northern Ireland, it's not a good image to send out."

If we want to make a real difference in terms of how long a count takes, we must change to electronic counting.

Graham Shields, Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy told UTV: "It is a long process now; we're nearly into a week of this election.

"It is too long and there has to be better ways of doing it."

Graham Shields, who is the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, said he understood the frustration the process had brought.

"I'm frustrated myself that things take so long, it's a big ordeal for everybody involved believe me, but while we use this process the important thing is that it's accurate, the count is efficient and that everything is done right," he commented.

Mr Shields explained that the particular way the count had developed, with the requirement to recount all Mrs Anderson's ballots in order to distribute her surplus, had not been anticipated.

"It was certainly not foreseen - we are, I suppose, victims of the circumstances we find ourselves in," he added.

"There has been a higher turnout than for the election in 2009 and an additional 140,000 ballots to count. We have 10 candidates which impacted on the administration of the process and these have led to an extended count.

"Unfortunately, this is what happens in a manual STV count - that's just how it is. The only way we are going to substantially impact on this situation is, in my estimation, through the introduction of electronic counting."

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office said it will "work with the Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Commission and the Northern Ireland parties to examine ways of speeding up the counting process, including looking at the possibility of introducing e-counting to Northern Ireland."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Andy in Belfast wrote (245 days ago):
Quit making excuses and put your effort into managing and staffing the count properly, the rest of the UK had everything counted, verified and declared before anyone at the Kings Hall had even bothered to get out of bed. Complete shambles from start to finish.
gerryt in Downpatrick wrote (245 days ago):
y'know you wouldnt find it anywhere else.16 hours to come up with 1 MEP.Its like something out of a kids comedy.Try and keep up(or catch up) with the rest of the UK Norn Iron.Hilarious if it werent such a serious matter.
BS Hamill in Valladolid wrote (245 days ago):
Spain declared two hours after polls closed. This is normal for the electoral process here.
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