England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

What happens at an election count?


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An election count is the time, usually on the night of an election or in the days after, when the votes are counted. This happens in a few steps, the most important of which we will outline here for local elections.

1. Polls close, ballot boxes are driven to the count centre

At English local government elections, the polls are open from 7am to 10pm. When the polls close at 10pm, the sealed ballot boxes are delivered to the count venue.

2. The “verification” count

At this point, the counting teams will count the number of ballot papers from each polling station, but not who the votes are for. This serves two purposes, to make sure the number of ballot papers given out at the polling stations matches the number that gets to the count venue, and to make sure that when the votes for each candidate are counted, the total number matches the number of ballot papers.

3. The count proper

The count staff then divide the ballot papers into piles based on the candidates that are voted for. In multi-member wards, i.e. places where more than one candidate can win, there are different, more complicated methods. At this stage, there is also a process for dealing with spoiled or doubtful ballot papers.

Next, the staff counts the votes for each candidate. In all elections this year (PCC, mayoral and local elections), the same rules apply: the candidate with the most votes will win. This means that unlike in previous years, there will be no second round of counting for any of these elections.

4. The declaration

At the end of the count, the Returning Officer will stand up and declare the result for each election.

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