West Tyrone by-election: Politicians may be smiling, but for voters it is a chore they could do without
Perhaps it was the almost certainty of the result, perhaps it was election weariness, but voters in West Tyrone yesterday appeared distinctly unenthusiastic at being called to the polls for the fifth time in three years.
For a constituency that is usually among those with the highest voter turnout - topping 68% last year - more voted with their feet this year by going somewhere else.
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West Tyrone dominated the headlines in January when Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff sparked outrage by posting a bizarre video on his Twitter feed on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.
It the footage, he larked about with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
Initially trying to defuse the row with an apology to the families of the 10 Protestant workmen killed by the IRA at Kingsmill, Mr McElduff eventually bowed to public pressure and resigned.
A by-election was then called to replace him.
With Sinn Fein enjoying a firm hold on West Tyrone since Pat Doherty took it from Ulster Unionist William Thompson in 2001, even an agreed unionist candidate seemed unlikely to upset the applecart in the constituency.
And with the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan trailing in third last year, Sinn Fein appeared unassailable.
An early proposal to agree a victims' candidate to contest the by-election did not get off the ground.
Just last year Mr McElduff retained the seat, increasing Sinn Fein's already commanding 16,807 vote total that Mr Doherty had won in 2015 up to 22,060.
Sinn Fein's choice of a bright, young female solicitor with party pedigree seemed to guarantee it would manage another hold.
Instead, the speculation around polling stations yesterday was over how much of its majority Sinn Fein would retain, whether a lower turnout and a row over its stance on abortion would have much of an impact.
But Orfhlaith Begley appeared determined yesterday, steadily working her way around polling stations both rural and urban, greeting voters as well as remaining active on social media, posting videos urging voters to make their mark for her.
However, election day opened to a tetchy start after the SDLP reported a Sinn Fein canvasser for having an electronic device inside a polling station in Strabane.
It turned out to be a Kindle tablet.
But the day then took a sinister turn when a man reportedly produced a gun at a polling station in Greencastle.
A man was being questioned last night as the votes were being counted.
Meanwhile, in Omagh, voters appeared exasperated as they left polling stations.
At Gibson Primary School, which usually returns a mixed vote, local woman Patricia McCrory stated her annoyance at being asked to vote again - particularly in a Westminster election while Stormont remained in suspension.
"It's galling when they (MLAs) can't get together in Belfast, that's what everyone wants, for them to get back together and get at it," she said.
Pius and Michelle Fox were equally irritated but said they were determined to vote nonetheless out of a sense of duty.
"I always have to come out and vote," added Michelle.
Others at the polling station were sceptical about why they were there at all.
One man who did not wish to be named quipped: "We're all here because some guy put a loaf of bread on his head."
A woman summed up her feelings on the matter, simply commenting: "It's senseless."
A short distance away at Omagh County Primary School, which returns a higher unionist vote, the DUP said the abortion issue had come up more on the doorsteps than the victims' issue had.
Candidate Thomas Buchanan told the Belfast Telegraph that many Catholic voters had promised him their vote because the DUP was pro-life.
Last month Ms Begley was the target of pro-life graffiti plastered over a church in Carrickmore, condemning Sinn Fein's stance on abortion.
Mr Buchanan said the abortion issue had come up regularly on the doorsteps during his canvassing.
His party strongly opposes relaxing the strict laws on abortion in Northern Ireland, at a time when Sinn Fein is officially backing changes to the Irish constitution in the Republic that could end the country's ban on terminations.
"From the thousands of doors we knocked, in both Protestant and Roman Catholic areas, we were very happy with the response we were getting," Mr Buchanan said.
"There were people from the nationalist community pledging their vote to us. Obviously you get that on the doorstep, and we will have to wait and see if that materialises.
"But abortion was the main issue brought up on the doorsteps. A number of Roman Catholic people now feel that they cannot fit into the policy of other parties (over abortion), and the DUP is becoming an outlet for them as the only pro-life party."
Mr Buchanan said he also heard anger from voters across the community over Mr McElduff.
"They felt insulted over his behaviour but also felt it was disgraceful that Sinn Fein did not act more over the matter - he resigned of his own accord, rather than be forced," he said.
Meanwhile, across the town at the Station Centre, within sight of the filling station where Mr McElduff filmed his now infamous video, turnout was also low.
But here, at a polling station that returns more of a republican vote, fewer people were willing to comment, saying only they were happy enough to come out to vote again.
The station was one of Alliance candidate Stephen Donnelly's last calls of the evening, accompanied by former party leader David Ford.
He also reported a lower turnout than usual across the constituency, but was undaunted, saying that it would be normal for a by-election. He said he was hoping to improve on his performance last year when he got 1,000 votes.
"Hopefully there will be a good response to ourselves, but it's early yet," he said. "The lower turnout seems to be consistent across the constituency. We are hoping for a good vote in Omagh, where we have done well in some areas in the past."