Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Hard lessons must be learned

DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds
DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds

Now it is official and not just the grumblings of exasperated politicians. The lengthy count at May's European election in Northern Ireland was due to poor organisation and how staff were deployed, according to watchdog body, the Electoral Commission.

Its report said there was a lack of overall management and oversight, ineffective use of staff and the failure to have a contingency plan to take account of an increased turnout and a record number of candidates.

Even by the diplomatic language of such reports that is fairly heavy criticism. It may not have gone as far as Nigel Dodds, the DUP MP, who, at the time, said the two-day count to elect three MEPs was a travesty.

At the same time, his wife, Diane, who was one of the successful candidates, said the province was the laughing stock of the UK and Europe over the way the count was conducted.

This is not the first time that vote counting has come under fire. In 2011 some Assembly members had to wait two days after the polls shut before securing victory, whereas in Scotland all its Assembly members were known at the end of the first day of counting.

We are used to critical reports of the way various things are done in Northern Ireland. However the reports keep coming and lessons do not seem to be learned. Surely the whole point of conducting an inquest into something which has gone wrong is to find out how to do it better the next time and what possible pitfalls to anticipate?

It is not enough for the Chief Electoral Officer to say that getting the vote count right is the most important thing.

That is self-evident and should not preclude doing it more swiftly. He needs to take on board this latest report ahead of next year's General Election and the Assembly election in 2016.

A cost efficiency analysis of electronic voting – which has been suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer – should also be carried out to see if it offers advantages over the traditional count by hand.

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