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Sunderland challenged for crown of first constituency to declare result

For 25 years over the last six general elections, Sunderland has beaten all-comers with a combination of runners and bank tellers to count votes.

Sunderland could be challenged for the crown of first constituency to declare a General Election result – by the city’s arch rival Newcastle.

For 25 years over the last six general elections, Sunderland beat all-comers by running a slick operation, having runners sprint with the ballot boxes into the hall and using bank tellers to count votes.

In 2015, the well-oiled machine was able to declare the city’s three MPs within an hour and a half of the polls closing, before anyone else had been named a winner.

The first, Houghton and Sunderland South declared at 10:48pm.

Now officials at Newcastle City Council have said they hope to declare their first winner “by 11pm” on Thursday.

They played down an estimate they could be announcing the winner at 10.45pm.

Both Newcastle and Sunderland have stressed this is not a race and that accuracy is more important than speed.

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Sunderland uses runners to deliver the ballot boxes (Gareth Copley/PA)

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said: “If we are one of the first councils to declare that will be great, but it is not our stated intention.”

Irene Lucas, acting returning officer at Sunderland City Council, said: “As usual, Sunderland is looking to run an accurate and efficient count that the electorate and candidates can all have confidence in.”

Bill Crawford, executive director of the Association of Electoral Administrators, used to work with Sunderland City Council and since 2015 has been advising Newcastle on increasing its efficiency at counts.

Officials in Newcastle have worked on improving every aspect of their operation, getting the ballot boxes swiftly to the count and then getting the papers quickly on to the counting tables.

Where Sunderland uses schoolchildren to run with the boxes, Newcastle will use sports students to lug the ballot boxes into the Sports Central hall at Northumbria University.

Newcastle will have 260 counters while Sunderland has 240.

But Mr Crawford still expected Sunderland to win.

“The Newcastle system is still transferring into a slick operation whereas Sunderland have had 25 years to improve,” he said.

“Sunderland have to be favourite, they have all the facilities, procedures and processes, but I think Newcastle will do a really good job in making an earlier declaration than they have ever done before.

“At 10pm when all the media outlets are watching, you are going to see two well-run councils in the North East show just how well they can do things.”

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