St Albans council refuses to delay counting of ballot papers for local elections

St Albans district council will still count ballots on the night of the election.

St Albans district council will still count ballots on the night of the election. - Credit: Archant

Ballot papers will continue to be counted on the night of the local elections in St Albans – despite calls for the count to be delayed until the next day.

Currently votes in the local elections in the district are counted as soon as possible after the polling stations close – with results announced up until 3am. However that can lead to an extraordinarily long day for both candidates and those drafted in to count.

A meeting of the full council on Wednesday, February 20 heard calls for the start of the count to be delayed until 10am the next day. Supporters of the move say this would mean counting staff would be fully rested and count accurately and quickly.

However ultimately members of the council voted against the motion, opting instead to keep the status quo.

Presenting the motion, Conservative Cllr Richard Curthoys said the late-night counts could be described as Dickensian, archaic and ridiculous.

He also said the move would be particularly pertinent as the council moved towards future whole council elections.

Labour’s Cllr Malachy Packenham said the current practice was an “utter nonsense”, and pointed to a council report, prepared for the debate, that estimated that moving the count to the next day would not cost a lot more money.

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According to the report the cost of holding the count on the Thursday night this year will be around £26,220 – on the Friday it would be £27,020.

Meanwhile Green Party Cllr Simon Grover was among those to speak against the change – highlighting those candidates who would have to take an additional day off work to attend the count on a Friday.

He also asked why the count actually needed to take so long, when other authorities could complete their own counts in just two hours.

Conservative Cllr Lyn Bolton suggested that she wouldn’t want to support it, if St Albans would be one of just a small number of councils to delay.

According to the report to the council, this year two of the other nine district or borough councils in Hertfordshire intend to count on the Friday – with the remaining seven counting overnight.

Outlining the additional costs of a Friday count, the report states: “If the count is conducted on the Friday some additional staff costs would be incurred due to the need to receive the ballot boxes at Batchwood following the close of poll and the hire of security to guard them overnight.

“A postal vote opening team would also be required to scan and open any postal votes received on polling day. The estimated additional cost is around £800.”

According to the report it may also be more difficult to recruit staff to conduct the count during the day on the Friday.

This is because external counters would need to take a day off from work and council employees would need to be released from their regular duties.