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US election: Northern Ireland firm Pakflatt has it boxed off

By Rachel Martin

Published 03/11/2016

The Clintons cast their vote at a polling booth during a previous election
The Clintons cast their vote at a polling booth during a previous election

A Northern Ireland company that makes voting equipment will enable millions of Americans to make their mark in one of the most divisive presidential elections in US history.

Voting booths made by Co Londonderry firm Pakflatt will be used in more than 40 states as voters choose between outspoken tycoon Donald Trump and former first lady Hillary Clinton next Tuesday.

The US electoral industry is thought to be worth billions of dollars each year and is around five times the size of the UK equivalent.

Derry man Patrick McGonagle stumbled upon his first electoral industry invention in 1986 and now employs 20 people in his factory.

It took him almost 20 years to break into the US market, but now almost 10,000 booths made by Pakflatt are in use across North America. Pakflatt's products are also used in Ireland, Britain and Europe.

The company has supplied every local authority in the UK, but because the home market became saturated it now exports almost everything it makes.

Despite the booths' long life-span, continual changes in voting legislation and updating technology mean that there is continual demand for new ones.

Just days before his 35th birthday in 1986, Patrick invented the multi-user voting booths people will be familiar with from their own elections in Northern Ireland.

He runs the company alongside sons Brian (27) and Patrick jnr (34). Before it began making electoral products, the family business made aluminium window frames.

"Wood was replaced by aluminium in windows and in the early days we did the same thing with voting booths," he said.

The company has long been at the forefront of innovation and is already exploring ways to make electronic voting more secure.

In 1999 Patrick won a competition run by the Home Office to design a tactile voting aid to allow blind or visually impaired people to vote independently, and by 2003 the company had secured a patent for the design.

The win started a contract that would see the firm make tactile voting slips for every polling station in the UK. The plastic covers are designed to be used along with a normal voting paper so that visually challenged and blind people can read the candidate's name in braille and make their own mark on the voting paper without assistance.

"Worryingly, I later found out I was the only entrant to actually consult blind people about the issues they faced," he said.

"Like most inventors or innovators I always thought of ideas which are unique or different and was able to see opportunities to do things differently. I did the research and followed up on enquiries until I stumbled upon something in a low-key industry."

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