Your Count this May

Whilst your election campaign stops at 10pm on polling day, your work doesn’t. There’s one very important job still to do: making sure the votes get counted properly.

Election counts done so badly that the wrong result is declared are a fairly rare occurrence, but approaching the count in a calm and efficient manner will usually ensure that this doesn’t happen.

There is also a lot of valuable information that can be gained from the count which you can use for targeting and informing your work in future campaigns.


The count is conducted in two basic stages, the verification and the count proper.


Stage 1 – Verification

What should our Lib Dem Counting Agents do at stage one?

Make a note of the number of the ballot box – usually this will tally with the polling district number or code.

Check that the ballot box is empty and that no papers have fallen on the floor.  If a Counting Agent notices a paper fall on the floor they should alert one of the counting staff NOT to pick it up themselves. They should not be concerned about potentially spoilt papers at this stage.

Once the returning officer is satisfied that the number of papers to be counted tallies with the number issued they will proceed to the count proper.

The Returning Officer should announce the number of ballot papers verified for each ward and you should make a note of this number as it will be useful to check the overall result is correct later on.

What is a “box count tally” and why is it important?

At this stage, for local council and Westminster elections, ballot papers should be kept face up. If they are counted face down, protest strongly, quoting 1986 Local Election (Principal Areas Rule 39(5)).

This means that as staff open the usually folded ballot papers and count them into bundles we can look and record a random sample of votes cast from each ballot box.

This is important data which shows how well we and the other parties are doing. Counting Agents should record the votes on tally sheets. The samples do not have to be large to be statistically significant. 100 votes recorded is good. 30 is probably adequate for most boxes.

The important thing is to get data from every box in the elections you are interested in. Do not appoint counting agents who are either unwilling or unable to accomplish this task.

It will be most useful if votes for all parties are recorded (use the top candidate for each party in multi-seat elections). If the counter is not up to this then just record the number of Lib Dem votes in each sample of 25.

What happens if there’s more than one election being counted?

If the ballot boxes were shared then the staff will usually split the different coloured (and often sized) ballot papers first. If they bundle as they go, you will need to tally both sets of papers( if you want both sets of information, using two counting agents on each box.


Stage 2 – The Count Proper

What should our Lib Dem Counting Agents do at stage two?

  • Make sure no Liberal Democrat votes go onto the opposition pile or that any extra ballots get onto the pile of a candidate who might beat us. (If Labour are set to finish a distant third don’t worry if a Tory vote goes onto their pile – the Tories won’t be telling us if the reverse happens!)
  • Make sure that there are no more than 25 ballot papers in a Lib Dem bundle (if that is the bundle size)
  • Make sure that our main opponents’ bundles always have at least 25 in them (if that is the bundle size)
  • Identify any potentially spoilt papers going on an opponents’ pile

If they spot any of these our Counting Agents should politely bring it to the attention of the counter who will either correct their mistake or recount the bundle.

In some councils, each bundle will have a coloured strip fastened round it to denote which party it belongs to. It is worth checking that they are putting the right strip on our votes and that they are then placed in the correct pile!



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