Polls closed at 10pm across Northern Ireland last night with evidence suggesting that turnout in the Assembly election has not significantly dropped, despite a lacklustre campaign.
A dry and often sunny day across Northern Ireland may have helped encourage some voters to come out, while the presence of so many independents and candidates from smaller parties could also have encouraged new voters to come out to the polls.
By 9pm last night, with an hour of polling still to go, turnout in many urban areas in the east of Northern Ireland – where turnout is historically lower than in the west and rural areas – was already over 50 per cent.
One polling station in North Belfast – Wheatfield Primary School – had an exceptionally high turnout by that stage, with 71 per cent of the eligible electorate already having voted.
Although there will be no official turnout figure until this morning when counting gets under way across the Province at 8am, evidence from polling stations suggests that turnout is likely to be around the 55.7 per cent seen five years ago in 2011.
That 2011 figure was down significantly from the 62.8 per cent turnout in the 2007 Assembly election. Turnout across Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies in last year’s General Election was 58 per cent.
Some final turnout figures – which come via party members rather than being officially released by the Electoral Office – show turnouts of 53.7 per cent at St Patrick’s Aghagallon in Upper Bann, 77 per cent in Brookeborough, the local polling station of First Minister Arlene Foster, and 55 per cent at Barrack Street in Strabane.
An hour before polls closed at 10pm, official turnout figures were posted up in polling stations across the Province. They obviously do not include the final hour of voting, but do give a clear indication as to the final turnout.
Figures collated by the News Letter show the following turnout figures at 9pm at various polling stations across the Province:
• 50 per cent at Carniny Primary School in Cullybackey (North Antrim);
• 48 per cent at Cooke Centenary Presbyterian Church, Ormeau Road (South Belfast);
• 71 per cent at Wheatfield Primary School (North Belfast);
• 54 per cent at Holy Trinity Primary School and Ballysillan Presbyterian Church (both North Belfast);
• 36 per cent at Green Road, Bangor (North Down);
• 52 per cent at Euston Street Primary School (East Belfast);
• 48 per cent at Balnamore Primary School (North Antrim);
• 58 per cent at Harding Memorial Primary School (South Belfast)
• 55 per cent at Drumadonnell Primary School, Moneyslane (South Down);
• 52 per cent at Woodburn Primary School, Carrickfergus (East Antrim);
• 47 per cent at Laurencetown (Upper Bann);
• 55 per cent at Hart Memorial Primary School (Upper Bann);
• 60 per cent at Mountfield (West Tyrone);
• 70 per cent at Aughnacloy (Fermanagh-South Tyrone).
Northern Ireland’s political leaders all voted early in the day yesterday, as is traditional.
DUP leader and outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster voted at a polling station near her home in Brookeborough while long time Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was accompanied by party colleagues as he dispatched his ballot in his native Londonderry.
Earlier at the same Northland Road polling station, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood carried his daughter Rosa into the building as he voted, while across the Province, in Strangford, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt voted at Gilnahirk Primary School.
The election is the first chance to vote for people born after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Eighteen years on from the signing of the 1998 peace accord that paved the way for a devolved powersharing government, voters are selecting the latest batch of 108 MLAs to represent them at Parliament Buildings. There are 276 candidates standing across 18 constituencies.
See Ben Lowry, page 39