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By Martin Giles
Members of the public are not allowed in to witness election counts, preventing any interference is obviously important, but The Dragon was present on behalf of its readers last night for the Worplesdon SCC Division By Election count, to see the process first hand.
There were around 30 people present, the counting team numbering about a dozen led by the returning officer (David Hill also the Guildford Borough Council’s chief executive) and the observers, comprising the candidates, their agents, their supporters, plus the press – just me!
Watching the behaviour of the different ‘teams’ was interesting. Of course, it was all very amicable, there was not too much at stake and the result was, in any case, predictable. Many present already knew each other and were perhaps friends, despite political differences. But although sorties were quite frequently made into different territories for odd conversations etc. individuals then tended to return to the safety of their own team’s ‘territory’. From where I was sitting the Conservatives were suitably on the right, the Labour party members on the left and the LibDems in the centre ground.
The counting process
First the ballot boxes have to be transported from the various polling stations to the place where the count is to be held: on this occasion the GBC Council Chamber at Millmead. Then when all are present, in turn, the seals are broken and the ballots tipped onto the counting table, manned last night by six counters who first orientate all the the ballots the same way and sort them into bundles of 20. A count is then made and the total reconciled with the total of ballots cast at the polling station.
The bundles are then represented to the counters who this time sort them into piles by candidate. Papers that have been marked irregularly are placed into trays labelled ‘Doubtful’. It is at this stage that onlookers can get a first impression of the likely outcome. The sorted ballots are placed into boxes labelled with each candidates name.
The sorted ballots are then returned to the counters again: this time for them to count how many ballots are in each of the candidates’ boxes. Meanwhile the doubtful ballot papers are checked by the returning officer in the presence of the candidates’ agents. Typically, in all elections, some are left blank, others have more than one cross or occasionally written comments are made. Those that were agreed as invalid remained on one side, others, where it was judged and agreed that the voting intention was clear, were returned to the count for inclusion.
Considering election counts are not that frequent the efficiency of the counting team was impressive. They do everything under intense scrutiny but remain calm and adept. You might think it was a job they did every night. Comments and explanations by the returning officer helped everyone know what was happening and why.
Once the final count was complete and postal ballots included in the totals, the returning officer called the agents to him and informed them of the result. They scurried back to the candidate and their gaggle of supporters to give the, on this occasion, unsurprising news. The returning officer then made the formal announcement of the result as most have seen so many times on televised coverage of elections.
A short speech was made by the winner, polite applause and then, within minutes, nearly everyone had departed. The whole thing from the last ballot box arriving to the result being announced took less than 90 minutes.