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Poll chief's plea for electronic counting in elections

By Liam Clarke

Published 16/07/2015

Warning: Graham Shields
Warning: Graham Shields

The vote count at next year's Assembly election could last two days unless electronic counting is introduced, the Chief Electoral Officer has warned.

Graham Shields had been slammed by the Electoral Commission for a slow and occasionally chaotic count after the 2011 poll. But yesterday he was praised by the independent review body for improving procedures and increasing voter registration.

The comments accompanied a report into all UK elections which showed the May count was completed within eight hours of the close of polling.

"This is a job well done; it is a good news story, and we hope it is continued next year," said Cahir Hughes, a spokesman for the commission. A survey in the report recorded high satisfaction with the conduct of the Westminster elections and counts - 93% of people in Northern Ireland, compared to 91% across the UK, said the elections were well run. And 95% were satisfied by their treatment at polling stations.

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission's Belfast office, said: "It is essential that the Chief Electoral Officer builds on this success ahead of the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly election. We have already given a commitment to work with him to look at what can be done to improve the efficiency of the manual counting of Single Transferable Vote elections in Northern Ireland."

Mr Shields said: "I went to the minister of state last year and asked for electronic counting, which is used in Scottish local government elections, to be considered. The minister rejected it on grounds of set-up costs.

"I still feel it is the future and that long-term costs would be lower than manual counting."

In the autumn he and the commission will look at ways of speeding up the procedures.

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