Northern Ireland

Politicians fail to attend electronic count event in Belfast

Graham Shields, NI chief electoral officer
Image caption Graham Shields said if it was approved it could be introduced in time for the next assembly elections

Northern Ireland's chief electoral officer has said he is disappointed that more politicians did not turn up for a demonstration of how electronic vote counting works.

Only two MPs, a few local councillors and not a single MLA attended the event at Belfast City Hall on Thursday.

Politicians were critical of counting times in the assembly and local government elections last May.

Consultations with the parties on the new system are currently underway.

But only two MPs, a handful of local councillors and not a single MLA were at Belfast City Hall for an e-counting demonstration - even though several indicated they would be there.

Graham Shields, the chief electoral officer, who bore the brunt of the criticism for last year's counting chaos hoped more would have been there.

"Everybody who has come along to this morning's presentation has, I think, been impressed by what they've seen," he said.

"The only slightly disappointing aspect to the whole thing is that we didn't have more politicians here, particularly given the number of complaints that were made last year about the length of time that was taken to complete the counts.

"I can only speculate about why they didn't come. Certainly invitations were issued and it would have been nicer to have seen more people along."

The equipment and technical support for the demonstration was provided by Opt2Vote, a Londonderry company which provided the software for the electronic vote counting used in the recent Scottish local government elections.

The plan was to recreate a live count scenario and provide an opportunity for politicians to increase their knowledge of e-counting.

No show

The afternoon session was attended by the DUP MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley Jr and the SDLP's Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle, the constituency where Opt2Vote is based.

But while some councillors and back room staff from all the parties were present at least two other MPs and up to eleven MLA's failed to show up.

Ballymena Sinn Fein councillor Monica Digney called the turnout "absolutely shameful".

"I think every council should have been represented here today because this is something that affects every single one of us," she said.

Another Ballymena councillor, Ulster Unionist James McClean, said: "It just shows the lack of interest in new modern technology and speed. We all complained about how long it took to count the last elections and here we have a system and they don't even bother to turn up to see how it works."

A decision on whether to introduce e-counting in Northern Ireland rests with the Northern Ireland Office and would require legislation.

NIO minister Hugo Swire MP believes it represents the future.

"It's early days and today is a chance for politicians to see what the company which operates this system has to offer and we will be listening extremely hard to what people have to say. We're not going to impose anything on anyone," he said.

Mr Shields said he hopes to complete his consultations with the parties by September.

E-counting could be introduced in time for the next assembly elections.

More on this story