We're a laughing stock: Poll fiasco as EU count runs into second day
Northern Ireland's electoral system has been branded a shambles after counting in the European poll stretched into a second day at an excruciating pace.
Questions have been asked after just one MEP – Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson – was declared elected after a marathon counting session of 16 hours.
While Diane Dodds was certain to take the second seat, the victor of the third and final seat was less clear as counting resumed this morning.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shields had major questions to answer about the slow pace, adding that if he could not sort it out by 2015 then he should resign.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds blasted the process as a "shambles".
His wife Diane had still not be declared as elected last night while Jim Nicholson of the UUP and TUV leader Jim Allister faced a nervous wait to see who would take the third seat.
Northern Ireland will today be among the last constituencies in Europe to declare its full list of winning MEPs. Only the Balkans matched the snail's pace of the counting process seen at the King's Hall in Belfast yesterday.
The ballots arrived at the count centre already verified yesterday morning, a move which allowed counting to start at 9am.
However, the first result was not announced until 6.30pm. And by 1am this morning – when counting was halted until 9am – there was just one seat officially filled.
Mr Dodds said he was disgusted at the "shambles" of the count.
"We had a disgraceful drawn-out process during the 2011 Assembly elections, the Electoral Commission then made recommendations to the Electoral Office but it clearly hasn't learned its lesson."
Mr Nesbitt said lessons should have been learned after the 2011 vote.
"The Chief Electoral Officer has major questions to answer, if he can't sort it out for 2015 he should stand aside," he said.
TUV leader Jim Allister was also furious. "The whole PR system is incredibly complicated but we have had it for over 40 years so it is hard to understand why this count is so frustratingly slow."
The SDLP's Colm Eastwood said it was time to introduce electronic counting in Northern Ireland.
Conservative candidate Mark Brotherston was eliminated on the first count. It took over 90 minutes to redistribute his 4,144 votes.
When this was announced at around 8pm, it made little impact on the remaining candidates.
Next to be counted was Mrs Anderson's surplus of 3,281 which took two hours, and the third round of voting was not announced until 10.30pm – long after the rest of Europe had completed its entire count.
NI21 candidate Tina McKenzie and Ross Brown of the Green Party were eliminated and the last count to take place was the redistribution of their votes.
Mr Shields said the particular way the count had developed, with the requirement to recount all Mrs Anderson's ballots to distribute her surplus, had not been anticipated. He insisted lack of counting staff was not the issue, noting that 270 had been employed.
"The electronic counting process, in my opinion, is an absolute necessity for going forward because none of us want to be here for days on end," he said.
Yesterday's scenes were reminiscent of the shambles of the 2011 Assembly election count which ran into two days because three polls were being counted at once.