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The Campaign to Save General Election Night is raised in the Commons again as a ComRes poll shows overwhelming backing from MPs and PPCs for overnight counts

SaveElectionNight graphicThe campaign to Save General Election Night gets a big boost today. After no fewer than 220 MPs signed the Early Day Motion on the matter in the last parliamentary session (making it the 20th most signed motion out of 2421), today I have news of polls of MPs and PPCs conducted by ComRes on the subject.

The latest ComRes parliamentary panel of 151 MPs found 90% in favour of counting as soon as possible after voting, with 91% of both Conservative and Labour MPs, and 82% of Lib Dems all taking that view. Click here to download the full table.

Meanwhile, a separate ComRes survey of Conservative MPs and PPCs in target seats found a total of 95% in favour of counting on the night.  Click here to download that table in full.

The matter was also raised on the floor of the Commons again today at the parliamentary backwater that is questions to the MP representing the Electoral Commission, who is Conservative MP, Gary Streeter. The Deputy Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Robathan, was keen to discover the latest position of the Electoral Commission and the various local authorities around the country which are charged with running the counts.

The exchange is as below and Gary Streeter's defence of the Commission's refusal to take a view on the matter is less than impressive. He repeats the mantra being used to defend the switching of counts to Friday, ie that we need to be sure that the count is accurate and that voters have confidence in the result. Is anyone suggesting that overnight counts held at elections for decades have been inaccurate?! And will there not in fact be a number of voters who have less confidence in a result where the ballot papers have been snaffled away and stored overnight somewhere pending a Friday count?

Here's the exchange from this morning:

Andrew Robathan (Con, Blaby): What representations the Electoral Commission has received on the timetable for the counting of votes at general elections.

Gary Streeter (Con, South West Devon): The Electoral Commission has received several representations about the timing of counts at the forthcoming UK parliamentary general election. The issue has also been discussed at recent meetings between the commission and individual Members of Parliament and with representatives of the BBC. The commission has written to all returning officers asking for information about when they intend to begin counting in the general election. As of 13 November 2009, it had received responses from 429 out of 650 constituencies, of which 225 will begin their count on polling day and 48 the day after. Some 156 were undecided. Details of responses received by constituency are available on the commission’s website.

Mr. Robathan: I am grateful for that response and glad that the Electoral Commission is considering the matter carefully. The truth is that Parliament and politics are less popular and of less interest than they used to be. If we are to forgo the count on the evening of polling day, people will not even have a Government the next day. We must have a count as soon as possible afterwards, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as a representation.

Mr. Streeter: I do receive that as a representation. My hon. Friend knows that returning officers, whose role is independent in statute, make the final decision about when a count is held. The Electoral Commission’s foremost concern is that the count be accurate and the voters have confidence in the result, but my hon. Friend’s representations are certainly well received.

Andrew Miller (Lab, Ellesmere Port and Neston): It is extremely rare that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), but he refers to part of the tradition of our system. Although it is impractical in a handful of constituencies, will the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) press the Electoral Commission to encourage returning officers to hold counts on the night of the election?

Mr. Streeter: The Electoral Commission does not look to influence the decision of returning officers, and the hon. Gentleman knows that the requirement to check signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements accompanying postal ballot papers is the issue that has arisen about the forthcoming general election. Naturally, the commission will look at the outcome of the next general election and the processes, and make appropriate representations after that.

Jonathan Isaby


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