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Storm clouds gather as Northern Ireland voters head to polls again

By Noel McAdam

After a lacklustre election campaign, Northern Ireland's voters could face a thunderstorm today as they go to the polls for the fifth time in two years.

The Met Office said today will get off to a bright start with some sunshine.

However, heavy showers and torrential rain are predicted for the afternoon, with hail and thunder. More than a million people are entitled to vote here after a Westminster election campaign dominated by our relationship to two other parliaments - Stormont and Europe.

Theresa May's decision to hold a snap election meant negotiations involving the five main Assembly parties and the Irish government on re-establishing the Stormont Executive were suspended.

Counting in all 18 constituencies will get under way not long after polling stations close at 10pm tonight.

But any voter arriving shortly before 10pm, who is still waiting in a queue at 10pm, will be able to cast their vote.

It is a first-past-the-post election, with voters choosing a single candidate from the ballot paper.

Since 2015's general election, Northern Ireland has seen two Assembly elections and the Brexit referendum. That could mean voting fatigue for some.

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: "Voters in Northern Ireland have had plenty of experience of visiting the polls recently, but it's important that they do take a few minutes to make sure they have done everything to ensure that their vote will be counted once the polling stations close. Before heading to the polling station, make sure you have a correct form of photographic ID with you. It doesn't matter if it's out-of-date, as you can still use it to vote.

"It's also important to remember that the voting system used for Westminster elections is different to that used at the Assembly election last March. You only need to place one X on the ballot paper against the name of the candidate of your choice."

Unlike the recent Assembly elections, counting is not being delayed until Friday.

From the 619 polling stations, a total of 1,380 ballot boxes will be transported and divided between seven count centres.

A total of 1,242,698 adults are eligible to vote in the province, ranging from an electorate of 62,423 in West Belfast to the high of 80,168 in Upper Bann.

The first official results are expected around 1.20am and all counts should be finalised before morning.

By then, with the national result also clarified, it will become clear whether any of the local parties will play a pivotal role in the next Parliament.

There is a also question mark, even if the Conservatives have a majority, over whether James Brokenshire will remain as Secretary of State.

But the likelihood appears that with Theresa May returned as Prime Minister, she would retain Mr Brokenshire with the inter-party talks aimed at restoring devolution due to resume next Monday.

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