What happens when polls close? The Count.
UK Polling Stations are open 7am-10pm on the day of an election, but what happens when those doors close?
When the doors close at 10pm the ballot boxes are quickly transported to the location of the count, this is usually a large sports hall within the constituency.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) December 12, 2019
When the ballot boxes arrive, their seal is broken in full view of election agents (and often the candidates). Counting MUST commence within four hours of polls closing. The ballot papers are then ‘mixed’ with ballot papers from another polling station, as a further security measure. This is all done in clear view of election agents, who can raise objections to anything they deem to be suspect.
Throughout the count ballot papers must be kept face upwards, in order to stop the unique identifying marks on the back of the ballot paper from being seen. The ballot papers should be visible at all times to any candidates, agents and observers.
The counting process does differ depending on the type of election. We are focusing on Parliamentary elections (i.e General Election or by-election). See the Electoral Commission website for more information on Local Council election procedure.
Counting assistants sort the ballot papers into piles of votes for each candidate. These piles are usually in numbers of 20, 25, 50 or 100 votes, a note is attached to the top of the pile with the candidate’s name and the exact number of votes made clear.
These piles are recounted by another counting assistant, and then often checked again by supervisors.
— Josh Halliday (@JoshHalliday) February 23, 2017
Spoiled ballots, or those with an unclear vote, are placed to one side. Later, these ballot papers are examined, if any clear candidate preference is noted then they may be counted as a vote. Alternatively, they are rejected.
The piles (or bundles) are then counted for each candidate. Once all votes and rejected ballot papers are counted, a check is made to ensure this number matches the number of ballot papers verified. If the numbers match then the candidates and agents are consulted on a provisional result. Once they are in agreement, and have had time to ‘digest’ the result and consider if any recounts are needed, then the declaration of the result can begin.
During the declaration of the result, it is a requirement to state publicly, of the name of the candidate(s) elected, the total number of votes given to each candidate and the number of rejected ballot papers.
In order to ensure the integrity of the result, there are a number of rules in place including:
- Sealed ballot boxes should always be opened in clear view of candidates and agents so that they can be assured that the votes have not been tampered with.
- Count venues are asked to make sure that the layout of the count is clear and visible to those observing, so as to maintain transparency.
- Those observing must be given the chance to challenge the transparency of the process if they feel necessary.
- Equipment must be tested in advance to prevent any malfunctions that may occur.
Who can attend a count?
The attendance of a count is generally determined by the Returning Officer. But usually includes:
- The Returning Officer and their staff
- Candidates (plus one guest per candidate)
- Election agents
- Counting agents
- Commission representatives
- Accredited observers
- Or any other person permitted to attend by the Returning Officer
If you have any questions about attending, we recommend you contact your local authority, who can put you in touch with the right contact.