UK Politics

Electoral Commission wants overnight general election counts to stay

Ballot box
Image caption MPs and broadcasters want general election counts to continue to take place overnight

The Electoral Commission has recommended general election counts should continue to be held overnight.

Before the 2010 election, a number of councils made plans to count votes the day after polling day.

But a campaign by MPs and others resulted in a change of the law requiring counts to start within four hours of the close of polls.

The Electoral Commission said this should only be revisited if national polls were scheduled for the same day.

A report by the Commission - the independent elections watchdog - makes a number of recommendations on the timing of election counts which, it says, will "make sure voters get accurate and timely results at future elections".

It follows consultation with returning officers, who are responsible for election counts, as well as politicians, broadcasters and others with an interest in the issue.

The report recommends returning officers should engage in "proper dialogue" with all those affected by decisions made about when to count ballot papers, which should include local politicians and broadcasters.

Once a decision has been made, returning officers should give clear reasons to all those affected and the timing of the count should be decided in good time.

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Media captionClips of election night TV coverage from years gone by

The commission recognised the increasing complexity of national elections, such as for the Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament, being held on the same day as other elections.

It recommended the issue of overnight counts for general elections should only be revisited if it was combined with these kinds of elections or national referendums.

'Carnival of democracy'

Chair of the Electoral Commission Jenny Watson said: "We are rightly proud of our democratic tradition of overnight change in government and the theatre of election night.

"Candidates and political parties, having campaigned hard, want results as soon as possible, and returning officers and their staff work hard to deliver accurate and timely results.

"But as more and more elections are combined, it's right that decisions about timing of the count are made in the interests of voters."

Jonathan Isaby, who ran the "save general election night" campaign before the last election, told the BBC's Daily Politics he was pleased with the Commission's recommendation.

"It's not just political nerds. It is the one time every five years where there is this national carnival of democracy where people sit around the television, watch the results coming in and feel part of that democratic process," he said.

Senior Conservative MP David Davis agreed: "I used to have a next day count and it was terrific because I could watch everyone else suffer all night, but actually I agree. I think the sooner the better."

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