Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2017: Everything you need to know - when do polling stations open? Where do I go? What do I need to bring? And what happens next?

Two-hundred-and-twenty-eight candidates are battling it out for a now reduced 90-seat Assembly across 18 constituencies in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election.

Overall the eligible electorate stands at 1.2million people, almost 27,000 fewer than at last May's count.

In December, over 60,000 people were removed from the register as they had not returned forms in the 2013 canvass. By February 1, some 20,606 people had joined the register.

The Assembly was supposed to be reduced to 90 seats at the 2021 election in order to cut costs. However, Martin McGuinness' resignation, which brought down the institutions, brought that forward.

Thursday will see polling stations open right across the country, here is everything you need to know:

When do polling stations open?

Stations open across Northern Ireland on Thursday, March 2 at 7am and close at 10pm.

There are over 600 polling stations and some 1,300 boxes for voters.

Who can vote?

Anyone on the electoral register, who is over 17 or will turn 17 by November 30, 2017 and is a British, Irish, Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of a Member State of the European Union. Click here for a list of countries.

Where do I go?

Your polling station will be named on the polling card, which you should have received by now. If you are not sure, or didn't get a polling card you can check the location with the Electoral Office. You don't need a polling card to vote, it is just for information purposes.

What identification do I need?

UK, Irish or EEA driving licence (photographic part) (provisional accepted)

UK, Irish or EU passport

Electoral Identity Card

Translink Senior SmartPass

Translink 60+ SmartPass

Translink War Disabled SmartPass

Translink Blind Person’s SmartPass

Identity documents produced at a polling station are no longer required to be current, as long as the photograph is of a good enough likeness to allow polling station staff to confirm the identity of the holder.

How do I vote?

The system used to elect members of the Assembly is by single transferable vote. This means you vote in order of preference. So decide who your number one is and then 2,3,4,5 and so on. You can continue on for as long as you like along the ballot paper and you don't have to put a number by each candidate.

A pencil will be provided - this is because a pen could tear the ballot paper. Although you can use your own stationery.

Who do I vote for?

That's for you to decide - and remember you can't discuss who you might vote for, or the merits of each candidate in the polling station.

What if I make a mistake voting?

As some constituencies have 18 candidates, you may find yourself making someone higher or lower up the paper than you intend to. This is not a problem as you can request a new ballot paper right up until the point you put it in the box - that is the point of no return.

Can I tweet or take a selfie from inside the polling station?

The Electoral Commission warns against tweeting inside the polling station, even if it's about your own vote. Also it's best not to take any photographs. The ballot is intended to be secret and you could run the risk of inadvertently revealing who someone else may have voted for. Wait until you get outside.

A good idea is to get the turnout for your polling station and tweet it - when you get outside - using #AE17.

What's the state of play?

Outgoing MLAs by party: DUP 38, Sinn Fein 28, SDLP 12, UUP 16, Alliance 8, Green 2, PBP 2, TUV 1,  Independent 1.

All are predicted to lose seats - given the cut in seats - bar the Alliance party.

When will I know the results?

The counting process begins at 8am on Friday. Given the system, it takes time to get everyone elected so results are expected to filter in throughout the weekend. First results could be around 3pm on Friday and the last... well how long is a piece of string.

Where can I get the results?

Where else, but right here on the Belfast Telegraph website. We'll have comprehensive coverage throughout the entire process until every MLA is elected. Including analysis and all the political fallout.

The big question - what happens after the vote?

That's not quite as straight forward.

After the election, the new Assembly needs to meet within one week. A new executive needs to be in place a further two weeks on from that. If the leading parties decline to nominate first and deputy first ministers within that time-frame, legislation dictates that Mr Brokenshire calls yet another election.

While the law as it stands requires another poll, it is debatable whether the UK Government would opt for a step that would surely test the electorate's patience to breaking point. In those circumstances, it is likely devolution would be suspended and Northern Ireland would return to direct rule by Westminster.

While the Secretary of State used to have powers to suspend the institutions, a step that was not uncommon during the early years of the peace process, those powers were removed under the terms of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement. The Government would then need to pass emergency legislation at Westminster.

A return to direct rule would provide some breathing space for a more substantive talks process to address the issues of contention. How long it would take to strike yet another deal is anyone's guess.

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