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Busy day at the polls as voters cast ballots in crucial election

Notable increase in numbers in both unionist and mixed areas of Belfast, reports LucidTalk

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Polling day: A woman gives an Irish wolfhound a treat as they wait outside a polling station. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Polling day: A woman gives an Irish wolfhound a treat as they wait outside a polling station. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

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Sinn Fein candidate Linda Dillon takes a selfie with Michelle O’Neill in Clonoe, Co Tyrone. Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Sinn Fein candidate Linda Dillon takes a selfie with Michelle O’Neill in Clonoe, Co Tyrone. Credit: Niall Carson/PA

PA

UUP leader Doug Beattie casts his vote at Seagoe Primary School, Co Armagh. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

UUP leader Doug Beattie casts his vote at Seagoe Primary School, Co Armagh. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

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Polling day: A woman gives an Irish wolfhound a treat as they wait outside a polling station. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

A busy turnout was reported as voters took to the polls on Thursday in an election that could transform the political landscape.

The Electoral Office estimated that turnout was 55.47%, but that figure was not final. Turnout for the 2017 Assembly election was 64.8%. In the Stormont poll the year before, it was 54.9%.

The highest turnouts were in West Belfast (60.7%) and Mid Ulster (59.3%). The lowest were in South Antrim (47.15%) and Strangford (51.7%).

LucidTalk tweeted there had been notable increases in unionist and mixed areas of Belfast.

Polls have tipped Sinn Fein to emerge as the largest party and take the first minister role.

Previous polls suggested that support for the party stood at 26.6%, giving it a six-point advantage over the DUP.

There has been much speculation over the possibility of Northern Ireland’s first republican first minister, with Michelle O’Neill expected to accept the job.

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Recent surveys also suggested another Alliance surge was on the cards.

The election debate has been dominated by the Northern Ireland Protocol following the resignation of former first minister Paul Givan in February in a effort by the DUP to force Westminster to act over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Also to the fore has been the cost-of-living crisis, with the DUP’s opponents urging it to commit to return to Stormont and help struggling households.

Major political players were seen spotted casting their votes on Thursday.

Ms O’Neill cast her ballot at St Patrick’s Primary School in Clonoe, while DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was seen voting in Dromore.

The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood was joined by his wife, Rachael, and their two children as he attended the Model Primary School polling station in Derry.

He told reporters: “The people are all-powerful today and the people will cast their vote.”

Mr Eastwood was seen by many as the winner in the final leaders’ debate broadcast on the BBC on Tuesday night, with 28% of respondents proclaiming the SDLP leader the victor in a snap LucidTalk opinion poll taken immediately afterwards.

TUV leader Jim Allister was accompanied by his wife, Ruth, to the polling station in Kells.

Green leader Clare Bailey was pictured voting in south Belfast.

Casting his vote in Portadown, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said: “It’s polling day. I don’t think anybody really knows the outcome of this. Things change throughout the day.”

A sombre-looking Naomi Long was joined by her party councillor husband, Michael, as they cast their votes at St Colmcille’s parochial house in east Belfast.

The day was marked by sadness for the couple, who had earlier attended a funeral ceremony for Mr Long’s father, Professor Adrian Long, who died peacefully on Saturday evening, aged 81.

One recent opinion poll suggested Alliance and the DUP were neck-and-neck in the Assembly election.

According to the Institute of Irish Studies and University of Liverpool poll for the Irish News, both were on 18.2% of the vote earlier this week.

This year’s election involved a record-breaking 87 women candidates competing for a seat.

In the first Assembly election in 1998, just 14 of the 108 MLAs were women.

The SDLP’s Elsie Trainor described her first election as “a great experience” despite the South Belfast candidate being attacked after chasing down two youths who had removed her election posters from lampposts.

“There’s been a good turnout. There’s been good engagement at the polling station. It’s a great buzz,” she said.

“As a party, we went in with a high-energy campaign, and Colum Eastwood performed very well in both leaders debates. The feedback on the doors was that people wanted to hear that — the pragmatic approach that he had. I had a real sense of completion last night.

“It’s over to others to decide now. I’m enjoying meeting them [the voters]. It’s been a great experience today.”

Also experiencing her first election was UUP East Belfast candidate Lauren Kerr.

She said: “Things seem to be pretty busy. It’s a strange experience going and voting for myself, a weird experience, but it’s good. I’m glad to have done it.

“I’ve been involved with UUP for a long time, and I think this is the first time I remember such a response on the day. People [have been] coming out and sending us tweets.

“Something just feels a bit different this time.

“I think we’re certain of one seat [Andy Allen]. We’ve put up a hell of fight for the second, and I don’t think that the fifth seat is certain.

“In terms of Alliance and the DUP, I don’t think they can be certain that they’ll return either. At this point, we’ll see, but I feel good about it.”

Counting for the election will commence tomorrow morning, with results expected to come in throughout the day.


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