THE wisdom of having so many ballot papers together for elections needs to be called into question after the debacle that was polling day first and then the counts which were so dragged out as to test the patience of Job. On Friday, May 24th, people in polling stations across County Cork were faced with ballot papers for their own local electoral area, along with a two-foot-long paper for the Ireland South constituency in the European election as well as a smaller one on the divorce referendum, while their city counterparts had an extra one, the plebiscite on the direct election of a mayor with executive powers.
There were so many that it was difficult to even squeeze them into the ballot boxes provided. Some returning officers had to resort to finding rulers to help push them down into the boxes.
Then, at the count centres, which opened at 9am on the Saturday morning, the various papers had to be segregated when the boxes were opened and this took a mind-numbing length of time. For example, in Clonakilty, it was eight hours – and, even then, mysteriously, it was after 6.45pm before the staff started counting the votes for the three electoral areas they were covering, Bandon-Kinsale, Bantry and Skibbereen Local Electoral Areas.
The first count result was not announced until 11.15pm – unprecedented in all our decades of covering election counts. Candidates and their entourages, who came from Belgooly at the eastern end to as far west as the tip of the Beara Peninsula, were not best pleased by the slow progress of the counting and many faced long journeys home when the first day’s counting was adjourned at 2.40am on Sunday morning after only two counts being completed in each of the three local electoral areas, the process resuming again a few hours later at 10am and eventually finishing at 7pm on Sunday evening.
There needs to be a thorough root and branch review of how polling and counting are carried out and why the delays are getting longer with every passing election. In 2014, the counts at the Clonakilty centre took 26 hours in one sitting. This time, not including the subsequent recounts, they took more than 27 hours over two days.
It is not the fault of the people counting the votes; the whole system needs to be looked at, especially as our taxpayers are footing the considerable bill for it. Things are getting worse – not better – and we need to establish why and do something about it.
We were never great fans of the electronic voting machines that were introduced way back when, but given recent count experiences, we’re having serious second thoughts at this stage, especially now that technology has moved on so much since they were first trialled.