Election 2015 England

Newcastle's speedier count 'worthy of core city'

Ballot boxes are run in during Sunderland election count in 2010 Image copyright PA
Image caption Houghton and Sunderland South has held the record since 1992

For the past five general elections the counting team at Sunderland has been the first to declare, with a result less than an hour after polls close.

This year its near neighbour, Newcastle, is aiming to come hot on its heels, and also finish its three counts before midnight.

Previously, its results came in at about 04:00 BST, described as "not great for a core city".

It is hoped a new, larger venue, and an electronic system will aid the process.

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said: "We just want to be as effective as a core city should be.

"It's not like we're bringing ballot boxes in from remote regions, so we've streamlined our systems to bring them up to date."

'Lighter paper'

The main difference is the location, with the count taking place at Northumbria University's Sport Central.

"Historically it's always been at the Civic Centre, where space has been quite constrained," the spokesman said.

"It looks big but there's not much space to move around.

"The move means we can operate three counts simultaneously instead of just one at a time, and use more staff which will be much more effective.

"Students will be running in with the 128 ballot boxes, and we have a new electronic system to count them in, because it's not just about speed but also accuracy."

Image caption In previous years the Newcastle counts have taken place at the Civic Centre

The cost of hiring the Sport Central venue will be offset by not having to bring the team back on the following day to count the local election results, as this can now take place immediately after the general election declarations.

'Not a derby'

Sunderland began its run of first declarations in 1992, when officials decided to mark its new city status by delivering results on polling day.

The process is now down to a fine art, with schoolchildren passing ballot boxes down the line and bank tellers counting the votes.

Lighter paper with a weight of 80g per sq m, rather than 100g, is used for the ballot papers, making them easier to handle, and voters are instructed to fold them only once, from north to south.

For the past two general elections the council has declared its three result before midnight, and this year Newcastle is hoping to do the same.

However, while it might be taking a leaf out of its rival's book, Newcastle's first result is not expected until an hour after Sunderland's.

In addition, both councils have categorically dismissed any idea of a race to be first, so it will not be an election night equivalent of a Tyne Wear derby.

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