Norwich North by-election report undermines the case for Friday counting

Although this summer’s Parliamentary by-election in Norwich North kicked off much subsequent debate about the alleged benefits of Friday (rather than Thursday night) counts after it was counted on a Friday, a close reading of the Electoral Commission’s report into the Norwich North by-election reveals that in fact the Norwich experience undermines the case made for moving to Friday counts:

One of the arguments used for favouring Friday counts over Thursday nights is that the anti-postal vote fraud measures introduced in recent years mean that far more checking is required of postal votes than previously, an exercise which takes time and requires access to particular IT equipment.

As postal ballot papers can be handed in during polling day, these last postal votes come in after scheduled pre-close of poll checking sessions. If large numbers come in during the day, this would cause a burden of extra work that needs doing at the count – and so make an argument for moving from Thursday night to Friday

However, in the Norwich North Parliamentary by-election only 180 postal ballot papers were handed in during polling day and therefore could not have been checked at the earlier sessions. There was no huge administrative headache caused by the volume of postal votes on the day.

Moreover, one of the subsidiary arguments which has been used is that the checking of postal votes is hard to do late at night as it requires access to council IT systems, which are often only normally available and supported during office hours. However, as the Electoral Commission’s report states, the 180 postal votes were in fact all checked straight after the polls closed at 10pm. Had there been a Thursday night count, it could have continued with delay and without hindrance.

(A related argument for having Friday rather than Thursday night counts is to do with whether or not staff on Thursday night are too tired to run a count properly. I’ve already covered this point in an earlier Gearbox column.)

In other words, the evidence from Norwich North is that a Thursday night count could have been conducted, at reasonable speed and with full postal vote checking.

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