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Jack Straw is "inherently sympathetic" to Saving General Election Night

SaveElectionNight graphic The support for Saving General Election Night continues to grow by the day, and this morning The Independent runs a story focusing on the issue, with extremely positive signs that the Government wants to see the campaign succeed:

The Justice Secretary Jack Straw is considering writing to returning officers to urge them to retain Thursday night counts. An aide told The Independent: "He is inherently sympathetic. He understands why people regard it as part of the fabric of the political system."

The paper also reports similarly sympathetic noises coming from a senior member of the Liberal Democrats:

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' chair of Campaigns and Communications, said: "It's important for democracy that you retain the excitement of election night and brings the process of voting to a climax."

These interventions follow Tuesday's call by Eric Pickles, the Conservative Party chairman, for the parties to work together to ensure the continuation of Thursday night counts at the next general election.

There is more coverage of the campaign in the Cornish press this morning, the Kent Messenger and the issue has managed to unite all three parties in Reading, where politics is notoriously confrontational.

Yesterday I appeared on BBC Radio Wales's lunchtime phone-in show to discuss the campaign: you can listen again here (the discussion begins 55 minutes, 30 seconds in and continues for about half an hour). Among the contributors was Clwyd West's Conservative MP David Jones, who has now blogged his support for the campaign.

The issue of Thursday night counts even appears to have excited those as far away as Budapest according to this report from one of Hungary's newspapers this morning:

"Ezzel ellentétben Jonathan Isaby vezetésével sokan mindent megpróbálnak megtenni annak érdekében, hogy megmaradjon a hagyományos választások éjszakája és annak minden izgalma. Ennek érdekében Save General Election Night néven még Facebook csoportot is létrehozott Isaby."

But despite the positive hearing the campaign appears to be getting inside the Ministry of Justice, we must continue to pile on the pressure, not least because the Electoral Commission appears to be erring on the side of supporting the defeatism of Returning Officers who want to switch to Friday counts. Here are extracts from a statement sent to me by the Electoral Commission yesterday:

"We all enjoy the excitement of election night and understand the completely natural response from candidates and local party workers, who have worked hard in close fought contests, to get the result as soon as possible.  But, our utmost concern has to be to ensure that the count is accurate and that voters have confidence in the election result... I am sure you will appreciate that managing an election count is a complicated task and Returning Officers will take into account a range of local factors when making their decision on when the count should take place. It is entirely appropriate for Returning Officers to decide to hold the count on a Friday if they are clear that this is necessary to ensure an accurate result.

"This will be the first UK Parliamentary general election at which the legislative requirement to check the signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements accompanying postal ballot papers will apply.   For some constituencies this will have the added complication of taking place across local authority boundaries. This is a significant additional factor that Returning Officers will need to consider when reaching their decision".

Here is the reaction I sent back to the Electoral Commission:

"Since no-one has questioned the accuracy of previous election results, the only factor in play here would appear to be the postal vote verification issue. Given that they can be verified and checked before polling day or during polling day itself (and before the count begins), it appears to me to be defeatism of the highest order on the part of ROs who are claiming they can't count on the night, given that they have months to plan the logistics for this.

"I gather some ROs are talking about hundreds or even thousands of postal votes being hand-delivered to polling stations on the day - which strikes me as absurd in the extreme. There's a reason they are called postal votes. Presuming the ROs are the people responsible for overseeing mass registration for postal votes in some places, surely they are equally responsible for encouraging people to post those votes in appropriate time before polling day - thereby removing this excuse for delaying not only the result in those seats, but potentially the national outcome to boot?"

I'll keep you informed of any further developments her and on the Facebook group, and likewise, do keep me informed of what you are doing around the country to lobby for Thursday night counting at the next general election.

Jonathan Isaby


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