Havering Election Count 6th – 10th May

New Constituencies

This years election was much more complex than usual because two elections were taking place on the same day – for the Westminster Parliament and for the whole of Havering Council. This had never happened before since Havering Council was founded in the 1960s. Havering is divided into 18 wards, each electing three councillors. Up to 2005, these were divided into 3 Westminster constituencies, but boundary revisions have reduced Havering to two and a bit constituencies.

The new Hornchurch & Upminster takes all of the former Upminster constituency and some wards from the former Hornchurch.

The new Romford takes in some other parts of the former Hornchurch.

The rest of the old Hornchurch (3 wards) makes up the new Dagenham & Rainham constituency together with 6 wards in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.

There were three problems:
1) Each elector could complete two ballot papers.
2) More people go out to vote in general elections than in local elections, so there would be more votes to count in the local election too.
3) For the three Havering wards in Dagenham & Rainham, the local elections would be counted in Havering and the general election in Barking.

The Plan

Havering would use different coloured ballot papers for the two elections and separate ballot boxes. (Good idea – some councils didn’t do this.)
All boxes would be validated first – this would also deal with the problem of a few electors putting their ballot paper in the wrong box. (After validation papers from the three Havering wards for Dagenham & Rainham would have to be transported to the correct count location.)
The general election counts would then be done first, followed by Borough ward counts.
At 4 a.m. the situation would be re-assessed. (Normally, a general election count, OR a local election count would be done by then, unless there were recounts. In this situation this was hard to predict.)

The count starts at 10 p.m. in Hornchurch Sports Centre – it’s the biggest hall in the Borough. Boxes are brought from polling stations under police escort and validation of some starts as soon as possible. Validation is to ensure that the number of votes in a ballot box matches the number recorded as having been cast in the polling station. This is vital to detect certain types of electoral fraud. When validation is complete for a ward (or constituency) all the votes for that area are brought together and votes are counted and bundled into 50s for each party. At least, that’s how it works for the general election. It’s more complex, for the local election, when a paper can contain up to three votes. If they’re all for the same party, they can be bundled in 50s, but where there is “cross-voting” the votes are recorded on a special form, one by one, to work out how many votes each candidate got. Party hacks usually think that cross-voting is a bit odd. I think each voter will have his/her own reasons for doing it, and it is an elector’s right.
All this is done under the eagle eyes of party officials, who will speak up if their party is being short-changed.

The validation, with twice as many papers as a general election, obviously took longer. In the small hours the general election count was completed and some wards were being counted. After a few wards were finished, the count would be adjourned until 10 a.m. (Friday). It was also clear the approximate order in which wards were being counted. As I was most interested in Harold Wood ward (as a candidate), and it was a long way down the list, I decided that I needed my sleep in bed! I was told later that the count had continued until 6 a.m.

The counting of the rest of the wards continued from 10 a.m Friday to about 6 p.m. By then, it was clear that the Tories had a clear majority in the council – they had won 2 seats from the RAs and lost 2 to Labour. Labour could also be happier as they had won three seats (from Tories and BNP) to go with the two they had held previously.

However, but by this time, two wards – Harold Wood and St. Andrews – were still unfinished. The third place in both wards was close between the Conservatives and the RAs and this led to demands for several recounts. It was clear to the council officers that everyone was very tired and they decided that the recounts should take place on Monday in the Town Hall. I personally thought twice about whether or not I was too tired to drive myself home. I did decide that I was too tired to Chair a meeting at 7.30 p.m on Friday evening!

Conclusions on the Count.

Though Havering made a reasonable job of organising the elections, I say NEVER AGAIN should we try to elect a full council and MPs on the same day. It has attractions – schools and other polling stations are only taken out for one day. But the marathon count did deprive the council of many staff on Friday and exhaust both staff and party officials.

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