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West Tyrone: Mystery of missing ballots brings counting staff back to square one

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 07/05/2016

The mystery of 36 missing votes meant it was a long wait for the 18 candidates standing in West Tyrone.

A full recount was ordered after a small number of ballot papers could not be found.

The initial tally had put DUP candidate Tom Buchanan top with more than 4,600 first preference votes.

But with counters making good progress, staff realised that a handful of votes were missing - meaning it was back to square one.

The recount got under way shortly after 3pm, and 5pm had passed before the first stage was completed.

It confirmed Mr Buchanan top with 4,650 votes, around 900 off the quota of 5,545.

But with a host of candidates and vote redistributions, it was going to be a long time before the first MLA was returned.

At 8pm - 12 hours after counting began - not a single MLA had been elected.

West Tyrone had the joint highest number of election hopefuls in Northern Ireland.

They included a Christian fundamentalist who wants homosexuality recriminalised, a pro-cannabis campaigner and a big game-hunting Tory.

Roger Lomas from the NI Conservatives, who caused controversy after being pictured with a dead antelope he had shot, was eliminated on the first count.

As he digested the results on a television screen, he seemed perturbed to have been beaten by Susan-Anne White, the controversial independent who styled herself "Biblically correct not politically correct".

At the second count, Mrs White, Corey French (independent) and Animal Welfare Party representative Laura McAnea missed the cut.

Alliance's Stephen Donnelly was next out, at the third count, followed by pro-cannabis candidate Barry Brown.

Sinn Fein, which looked set to miss out on a fourth seat, appeared to have split its vote well.

Barry McElduff and Michaela Boyle both polled strongly.

With the DUP set to top the poll, Sinn Fein holding its three seats, and the UUP's Ross Hussey set to be returned, the real battle was for the sixth seat, with the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan hopeful of eventually getting across the line.

However, as the counting and redistribution continued, he was bracing himself for a long night - as was everyone else.

Belfast Telegraph

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