Save General Election Night!
Yesterday's Sunday Times pre-empted this post and its accompanying Facebook campaign I was intending to start later in the week, but since the blogosphere has started discussing the issue, here goes: future General Election nights are under threat as an increasing number of councils are planning on counting the votes cast on the Friday morning rather than the Thursday night.
The Sunday Times suggests that as many as a quarter of local authorities could end up holding a Friday count. The paper names Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a prime example, but conversations I have had suggest that that much of Norfolk, West Yorkshire and maybe all of Cornwall could count on the Friday, with it under consideration in a number of other areas, including much of North West England.
I am fiercely opposed to this development, as are, I believe, large number of political activists of all parties - as well as the broadcasters who bring election nights to life on television and radio (in one of my previous lives I was at the BBC and worked behind the scenes on the 2001 election night programme), not to mention voters up and down the country.
Here are a few of my reasons for the campaign against more Friday counts:
We want to know who won as soon as possible. Quite simply, once the polling stations have closed I want to know the result as soon as possible, and I imagine most activists and candidates who have been pounding the streets for a month feel the same way, as well as voters who have cast their ballots. And this argument holds on two levels. Firstly, on a constituency level, but more significantly on a national level: if the general election is going to be close, then it is possible that if lots of seats are not counting until Friday - especially marginals - then we will not know who is going to be Prime Minister, form the Government etc until Friday lunchtime.
It would be a backward step. In the digital 24-hour media age when we are used to getting news quicker than ever before, it would be a backward step to delay election counts. If anything, we should be seeking to persuade the few constituencies which historically count on a Friday to bring their counts forward to Thursday night.
Fewer people will be able to follow the results coming in. Sitting around the television into the early hours is an election night ritual for people across the land, many of whom do not perhaps follow politics as closely as some of us. But if there are fewer results to announce - and the potential of not getting a national result to boot - they are less likely to bother tuning in and when the remaining constituencies declare and the national result becomes apparent on the Friday, anyone at work is not going to be able to witness the climax of the electoral process.
The TV coverage of the election will suffer. The outside broadcasts (OBs) at counts up and down the country have provided many a memorable moment over they years, and they bring the results to life. However, the reason why broadcasters are able to provide such a variety of OBs is that there is no other call on the satellite trucks and outside broadcast units during the night. If there were an increasing number of counts on Friday during the day, fewer of them would have cameras present, thereby reducing the ability of the broadcasters to give full coverage of the results.
It's a tradition, dammit. The traditional British way of doing elections is to have people come out to vote and then count the ballot papers immediately afterwards. It's how we do it and what we're used to.
Threats to the integrity of the ballot. Security is a less important concern, but worth a mention all the same - I am just a little uncomfortable about increasing millions of ballot papers being left overnight before being counted.
If you agree with me that we therefore need to Save General Election Night, PLEASE JOIN THE FACEBOOK GROUP I have set up, to demonstrate your support and invite your friends to join as well.
Furthermore, please contact your local council (most likely the electoral registration department or Chief Executive's office) to discover when the votes for your constituency at the general election will be counted.
If it's definitely Thursday, let me know and I will post a list of confirmed Thursday counts on the Facebook page.
If your council indicates that it will be counting on Friday or that it is yet to be decided, apart from letting me know, please lobby your local councillors and council leader to urge them to count the votes on the Thursday night.
I will keep the Facebook page updated with latest news of the campaign and supporters.
Together we can save General Election Night!