Election chief responds to criticism of count delay

The chief electoral officer yesterday insisted that his office had been “thoroughly” prepared for the European election count.

Speaking to the News Letter at 4pm on the second day of counting, Graham Shields responded to fierce criticism of the delay in completing the tallying of votes.

Count underway at King's Hall, Belfast'Euro election'26-05-14'Adam KUla

Count underway at King's Hall, Belfast'Euro election'26-05-14'Adam KUla

“STV [Single Transferable Vote] counts are by definition a lengthy process and that has always been the case as people will know in the history of election counts in Northern Ireland,” Mr Shields said.

He said that the council counts last week had been a reminder of how slow such counts are.

“They take a long time. There are ten candidates in this election and the number of stages reflects the number of transfers that generally increases with the number of candidates.”

The electoral office came under fire on Monday from politicians including Nigel Dodds of the DUP over the slow progress in counting Northern Ireland’s 636,00 European votes.

Asked if he had been taken by surprise by the duration of the count, Mr Shields replied: “I’m not at all surprised because you just don’t know how a count is going to go whenever you start it.”

He said that even with hindsight he did not feel there could have been better preparation.

“I am entirely satisfied with what has been done here and how the count has been conducted. It has been conducted properly, the planning was done thoroughly and nothing in my view of a substantive nature could have been done better.”

Mr Shields pointed out that there had been even longer counts in the Republic of Ireland: “There are colleagues in the south of Ireland who are now on their fourth day of counting to elect their members of the European parliament. We’re on our second day.”

He said that e-voting was the response to the complaint that counting had taken too long. Mr Shields said that he had witnessed it being used in the Scottish local elections in 2012, which were finished “within about eight hours”.

When asked if the fact that Monday was a bank holiday had been a factor, Mr Shields said that had been “absolutely no issue at all.”

“We had the staffing required yesterday and today.”

Also speaking from the count yesterday, Seamus Magee, the head of the Electoral Commission, declined to offer a view on the delay. He said that the commission would be preparing a report on the election, as it always did after elections.