Belfast Telegraph

Turnout boosted by late surge

Vote counting starts today

By Noel McAdam

The voting is over – now the counting begins.

History was already made yesterday with local council and European Parliament elections being held on the same day for the first time.

Now results in Northern Ireland’s 11 new local authorities will begin to emerge later today, running into tomorrow — with the verdict on the MEPs delayed until Monday.

The first election here in three years twinned the creation of Northern Ireland’s new councils with the European race, but there were no indications that the juxtaposition — or the gap since the last chance people had to give their opinions on the parties — had sparked a greater turnout.

Voting appeared to be slow in the first 10 hours of the day — from 7am to 5pm — but polling stations enjoyed a surge from tea-time onwards. Chief electoral officer Graham Shields said it was impossible to predict the turnout.

“I do not see anything remarkably different from previous elections, I would not say we are massively up nor are there any indications that we are massively down,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Anecdotal feedback from polling stations indicated a “slow but steady flow” during the day. A relatively dry and sunny day was also likely to push up the turnout, but there were fears the final figure could be around 50% — still markedly higher than in England and Wales.

By early afternoon in parts of Belfast — where the focus is on whether the Alliance Party will continue to hold the balance of power between nationalist and unionists — there had only been a trickle of voters. In some parts of north Belfast polling stations reported around 15%, while in Carryduff and Belvoir the lunchtime totals were nearer 10%.

If apathy appeared to be the early winner among the electorate, candidates in the Euro race were more enthusiastic, with the SDLP’s Alex Attwood and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister casting their votes by 8am.

The public is choosing councillors to 11 new authorities — replacing the current 26 councils — although they will not begin to operate fully for another year.

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