Sunday, June 20, 2010

Election Night - an undramatic, excessive expense?

Now that attention is turning to the need for spending cuts great and small, I'd like to take the chance to pounce on one area of expenditure that is admittedly small in itself but which got the blogosphere so worked up earlier this year - Election Night.

We were told that it was a horror that "penny pinching councils" were considering - SHOCK! - counting the votes the next day. It was ghastly that they were prepared to not spend extra on staff and room hire to count the votes in the middle of the night so that we could get a result in the small hours of the morning. It might even have led to the end of democracy in this country and the collapse of civilisation because a formal change of government might not happen by lunchtime. And we might not get the fun of a "Portillo moment" for most of the country to rejoice about.

Well the actual result meant it took five days for a change of government, but from where I'm sitting civilisation hasn't collapsed and we're still a democracy. And as for "Portillo moments", most of the country were not rejoicing when Michael Portillo lost his seat in 1997. Most of the country were in bed.

And let's be honest - the 2010 election contained very few results that could be considered a "Portillo Moment" and even when the outcome fits that, the declaration wasn't remotely as dramatic. For instance here's the Belfast East result where Peter Robinson lost his seat:
It's hardly the most dramatic declaration going is it?

Was the extra money spent on overnight counts really necessary to give political junkies some excitement? I frankly don't think it was. There are other areas of the election where frankly more money was needed - more staff, better venues for polling places and a better communications system would probably have dealt with the horrendous queues and allowed more people to actually cast their vote. (See "More money for electoral administration!" or "Fewer elections at the same time!"?) That would have been worthy extra spending for democracy. Overnight counts were not.

It was also galling, though not surprising, that in the run-up to the general election Parliament passed legislation to force local councils into holding overnight counts in all but the most mitigating circumstances. This legislation was passed by and cheered by many people who claim to believe in "localism". Often it seems that "localism" does not extend to local councils.

For 2015 let's go the other way. Remove the legal requirements on councils to focus everything on having an overnight count and encourage (not force) them to count on Friday daytime. The priority in election spending should be in getting efficiency, not wasting public money for a few people's excitement. If "Election Night" has to be replaced by "Results Day", so be it.

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