The Count

What’s it like on the night: inside a polling station

Being fairly interested in politics, good with numbers and always happy to earn a bit of extra money, I applied a few years ago to be ‘Count Staff’ for my local council.

The best part is being involved in the democratic process and the excitement of election night. The spoiled ballot papers can be quite amusing as well, although normally the comments (and drawings!) are not repeatable. Each spoiled paper has to go to the returning officer who checks them with the candidates.

Being in a London Borough means that the Ballot boxes start arriving very soon after the polls have closed. The votes have to be verified first, meaning the votes in each ballot box are counted to check that the total matches the number of people who voted.

After this everyone has a tea break – then The Count begins.

Within your team you work with a partner so that you can check each other’s work. The Counters all sit on one side of the tables so that the candidates, their agents and guests can sit opposite and watch. No communication between the two sides is allowed and some of the tables for the closely fought wards can get quite busy.

The recent local elections saw a rise in the UKIP vote and the splitting of each person’s three votes between different parties. This meant a lot more work for the Count staff – not one of the more widely voiced criticisms of UKIP! Instead of putting the whole, very lengthy, ballot paper onto a Labour or Conservative pile all the individual votes had to be added to a paper spreadsheet, which then had to be totalled and checked. A lot of coffee and Mars Bars are provided for this activity! The General Elections are much more straight forward and quicker.

You have to stay until your count is called. A weary cheer came from our team as the Returning Officer announced the result, the last one, just before 8am in the last local elections. However, you don’t really want to be the first to finish because you will probably be the ones that do any recounts.

Finally, having observed the electoral process I would advise anyone intending to stand for their local council to try and ensure that their surname starts with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet. Democracy in action!