Why are general elections counts moving to a Friday?

The Sunday Times reports today that many councils are thinking of moving their counts at the next general election to a Friday. Although the basics of their story are right, it leaves out a few relevant aspects.

The Sunday Times omits to mention that a number of constituencies already count on a Friday – so in a close election, we’re already in the situation where the Friday news will be a key part of the big picture rather than just a detailed footnote to the Thursday night news.

The story has a quick jibe at council staff “who want to protect their 9-5 existence” but fails to mention the major factor that has been pushing election counts of all sort from Thursday night to Friday morning.

That’s the  big changes in election law around postal voting which makes the checking of postal ballots a much slower and more arduous exercise. Overall, that is good – because it cuts fraud – but it means that much more intensive use is needed of IT resources as is access to data that the council holds.

It means many councils have started doing more postal vote openings in advance of polling day. It also means that dealing with the postal ballots that arrive during the day on polling day is harder, and it’s no great surprise for councils to therefore think that it is more sensible to do the count during normal hours of IT support and access to other records on a Friday.

Ironically, The Times has been at the forefront of campaigning over the years for tougher action against postal vote fraud, so the Sunday Times is complaining about the result of what The Times was demanding…

A footnote: overall, I prefer counts on Thursday because the sense of excitement is about more than just keeping people like me entertained, it’s also about drama that gets the public interested in elections, quicker counts mean less risk of ballot boxes going astray or being tampered with, there is likely to be a flow of information from close of polls anyway, of highly varying accuracy – and overnight is a good time to get that rare sort of detailed media coverage when there is little else to distract the media.

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