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Marathon Euro count poll goes on

A general view of staff at the King's Hall, Belfast, during counting for Northern Ireland's three seats in the European Parliamentary elections

A general view of staff at the King's Hall, Belfast, during counting for Northern Ireland's three seats in the European Parliamentary elections

The finish line in the marathon European election count in Northern Ireland remains a distance away, with candidates expecting to wait most of the day for the outcome.

Election officials have faced heavy criticism over the length of time the process is taking.

By late morning, with the counting entering its 19th hour, two of three seats in Brussels remained unfilled.

Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson emerged victorious after the first round of counting last night but four further stages under the single transferable vote method have failed to identify the other winners.

Fellow outgoing MEP, Democratic Unionist Diane Dodds, should also re-book her ticket to Brussels after notching more than 131,000 first preferences, but it could be mid-afternoon before that is confirmed.

The third incumbent MEP Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Unionists is favourite to secure the other of the two vacant seats, but is facing competition from the SDLP’s Alex Attwood and the Traditional Unionist Voice’s Jim Allister.

The count was suspended close to 1am this morning after almost 16 hours.

Mrs Dodds’ husband Nigel, who is North Belfast MP and DUP deputy leader, was scathing of the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland, branding the count a “disgrace and a complete shambles”.

The Office was also criticised after delays plagued the 2011 Assembly election count.

“I think it is a disgrace that once again the Electoral Office has operated things here at a count which has made Northern Ireland look a complete shambles in terms of counting votes,” he said.

Chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland Graham Shields said the particular way the count had developed, with a relatively high turnout of almost 52%, the need to factor in ten candidates, and the requirement to recount all Mrs Anderson’s ballots in order to distribute her surplus, had not been anticipated.

He insisted lack of counting staff was not the issue, noting that 270 had been employed.

Mr Shields said the episode underlined the need for electronic vote counting in Northern Ireland.

“The electronic counting process, in my opinion, is an absolute necessity for going forward because none of us want to be here for days on end,” he said.

 

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