My list-based commentary article for Buzzfeed (6 May 2015), proposing we abolish ‘election night’, embrace common sense and count votes the day after a general election.
‘Election night’ is a tradition in UK politics, whereby votes at General Elections are counted immediately after polls close at 10pm and results from constituencies declared throughout the night. But is there really any need for us to count votes in the early hours of the morning? In this post I suggest why it would be better to do it the next day instead.
1. More people will watch the declaration of results
We all remember watching those seismic moments in electoral history… Britain’s first female Prime Minister being elected in 1979, Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997, the dramatic finale to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Actually, we don’t, because most of us were asleep as all of this happened. The declaration of a General Election result is the most important event in British democracy, and a great opportunity to engage the electorate. But only political geeks are prepared to stay up all night waiting for it to happen. The rest of the population is in bed.
2. It will make it easier to prevent electoral fraud
As the number of people choosing to vote by post has increased in recent years, so have concerns over the potential for electoral fraud. There are strong mechanisms in place to check the validity of all postal votes, but these take time. Returning Officers are required to check at least 20% of all postal ballots they receive, and will often try to check a much higher proportion. The problem is, many postal votes do not arrive until election day itself, meaning that there is very little time to check them. If we move counting the next day, this will allow more time for robust monitoring for potential fraud.
3. Tired people make mistakes
It’s rare for the UK’s diligent election administrators to make mistakes, but it happens. For instance in 2012 in Denbighshire a stack of ballot papers were wrongly allocated to one election candidate, because his name was similar to his opponent’s. In 1999 in Doncaster, the Returning Officer declared the wrong candidate to be elected, a declaration that had legal standing despite being based on a mistake. Of course, daytime counting wouldn’t eradicate all mistakes, but why take the risk with something so important?