Concern grows over counting votes in general election

BRITAIN faces a "dreadful" wait to see who forms the next Government as 400,000 votes will not be counted on general election night.

BRITAIN faces a "dreadful" wait to see who forms the next Government as 400,000 votes will not be counted on general election night.

Counts in seven Parliamentary constituencies in Newcastle and Northumberland will not begin until the day after the election, which must be held by next June.

A further three areas will remain undecided when counts will begin, including South Shields where Foreign Secretary David Miliband is currently MP.

The Electoral Commission has just released the information – although local officials have not provided details of counts in other local seats that have around 60,000 voters each.

The news has sparked warnings that the country may not find out its next Government until the day after the general election, which must be held on a Thursday.

Nationally, 27 constituencies will not hold counts until the day after and decisions in more than 80 seats have not yet been made.

Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles said: “I think it is a dreadful thing.

“The amount of money that might be saved is miniscule and I think this is all about putting politics in its place.

“It is all about the convenience of some highly-paid returning officers. I am not impressed and neither is the British public.

“If chief officers aren’t able to organise a count on a Thursday evening, they should be wondering whether are good enough to do the job. It could indeed mean that we are without a Government for a day, but the main point is that the British public decide.

“We have always had a count on a Thursday and people like to know whether the Government is there or not.”

Ron Beadle, Liberal Democrat candidate for Newcastle North, said he understood the decision because a high number of postal votes made it a difficult process, but said the very last votes counted on the Friday could be crucial in deciding the next Government.

Guy Opperman, Conservative candidate for Hexham, said: “I would far prefer the count to be on Thursday night.

“It is part of the electoral fabric that we know what the result is going to be nationwide through that night.”

Newcastle councillor Gerry Keating, chairman of the constitutional committee, has said the city had an “unusually” large number of postal votes with around 7,500 not arriving until 11pm on election night.

“In order to thoroughly check their validity, in line with legal requirements, we have taken this decision.

“It is not a simple case of wanting to go home and leave the count until the next day,” said the Lib Dem.

He said council staff would work on the election from 5.30am on the Thursday until 1am on Friday, resuming counting at 9am and finishing around 5pm. The move will save £6,000, according to the council.

Jeff Reid, Lib Dem leader of Northumberland Council, said the decision to carry out the count on a Friday was deemed more efficient and cost-effective.

He said: “We just thought it was a sensible thing to do because the staff get a chance to get home and get refreshed because in the past they have put 20 hours in.

“We are delivering the results as quickly as possible and in Berwick it has always been the next day simply because of logistics.”

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