» Elections ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Despite the fact I think that we shouldn’t be having Police and Crime Commissioners, I’m finding it hard to ignore the announcement of results that’s going on today. The electoral geek in me has come out, especially as the news I’m hearing from the Essex count is very interesting – the Conservative candidate has a lead after the first round, but the independent Mick Thwaites might be able to close that gap with second preferences. Results from across the districts show that the other independent candidate, Linda Belgrove, has also done well.

The problem, though, is that this information is coming from what people who are at the count are tweeting. Officially, none of this is available to the wider world until the result is announced, and even then the announcement will just be the basic result for the whole county, not the breakdown by district. (As happens with European elections, the district-level results may be released later)

This is the way all our elections get counted, with all the votes cast for a post announced together, and from what I understand it’s another way in which Britain stands alone. In other countries, votes are counted by where they’re cast, these results are announced and then aggregated together to give an overall result. This is what we saw in the US election a fortnight ago, with results being declared by precinct (roughly equivalent to a British polling district), and most of those announcements being made online on an official election site. This is why US media have the ability to call states before counts are completed – from seeing the results as they come in, they can project the result for the rest of the state.

Over here, though, that information isn’t announced, and we all must wait until the full result is announced. Surely it’s not beyond the ability of returning officers to arrange counting and announcement by polling district, and for the Electoral Commission to create a site or sites for these results to be announced on? (Indeed, researchers and academics would probably find a single database of all local election results very useful, rather than having to scrape them from individual council sites)

Declaring results by district would give everyone a lot more information – not just who won where, but how turnout varies across an election – and would likely make election counts and declarations more interesting. What would we need to do to make it happen?

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Because history repeats itself, except for all the times it doesn’t.

Barack Obama’s re-election this week meant that three successive US Presidents (Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Obama) had all been elected to two terms in office. The only other time this has happened in American politics was 200 years ago, with the Presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

The interesting thing about this is that in both of these sequences, the President who served immediately beforehand was a holder of the office for a single term (John Adams and George HW Bush), who’d previously been Vice-President for two terms (for George Washington and Ronald Reagan). In the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe sequence, the next President was a son of that former President who served for a single term: John Quincy Adams.

As perfect symmetry can’t be achieved unless someone finds a way for George W Bush to run again for the Presidency, the burden of history falls on the other politically-active son of George W Bush, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. To keep up with history, he should win a bitterly disputed election that ends up decided by the Congress, after the ruling party has split several ways. The winner of the popular vote and the most electoral votes (Andrew Jackson in 1824) will then swear revenge, get elected for two terms immediately afterwards and make radical changes to the way the political system of the country works.

Of course, the parallels break down when you look too closely, not least in how James Monroe’s period as President was known as ‘the era of good feelings’ with so little domestic strife that he was re-elected without serious opposition to his second term. When the historians write about this period of US history, I somehow doubt ‘good feelings’ will be used much. However, Jeb Bush is being mentioned as a potential Republican candidate next time round, so maybe history is preparing for the tragedy or the farce.

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Though it is a comment, from a Lib Dem Voice thread on Conference accreditation:

It sometimes strikes me that some people see winning elections as an end in itself, without giving very much thought about why you are trying to win them or what you should do when you have. And paradoxically, it’s that kind of attitude that has paved the way for electoral disaster.

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Someone’s started up a petition on the Number 10 website to introduce STV in local elections in England. I’ve long thought that this would be a decent step to improving local democracy and accountability, so if you feel the same, why not go and sign it?

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I wrote last week about the odd situation in Gwynedd, where a lack of candidates forced a non-election in one ward, and that ward turned out to be crucial for overall control of the Council.

Nominations for the ensuing by-election have now closed, and the electors of Bryncrug/Llanfihangel sadly haven’t shown a continued spirit of anarchism by refusing to nominate anyone again. Instead, having not been able to find a single candidate a few weeks, this time they’ve found five, including three different independents.

However, it looks like the election won’t be as crucial as originally thought, as Plaid Cymru have now done a deal with Labour to run the Council. I’ll keep an eye out for other updates as this campaign rolls on, though.

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A couple of days ago, we had the story of the council ward in Wales with no candidates, and now we have the story of the ballot box in Glasgow that may or may not contain no votes.

It seems that Glasgow Council has just discovered that one of the ballot boxes used for the Langside ward was recorded as having contained no votes, but that, on closer examination (or perhaps just looking in the box) it seems that there were some in there. How many there are, I’m not sure, but from what I can find on Glasgow Council’s site, the polling district in question (Battlefield Primary) contains up to 3434 voters. (The report on polling districts is a little confusing, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s proposing creating one district with 3434 voters, or two sub-districts at the same polling station with 2,405 and 1,029 voters. If the latter is the case, then the box could be for the smaller of the two districts and only be for 1,029 voters.)

The official result is here, and Lallands Peat Worrier breaks it down in more detail here, complete with a graph that makes it easier to see where transferred votes (Scotland uses STV for local elections) have gone. What’s clear from that is that while the number of votes in there might not effect the SNP and Labour candidates who won on first preferences, the battle for third place is very close, and a few votes could change the outcome dramatically. And even with an ‘empty’ ballot box, they still managed a 35% turnout.

Beyond the election itself, there are some important questions to ask, starting with just how a box with votes in it got recorded as being empty. However, that then opens up a whole set of other questions, notably starting with how no one raised an eyebrow at a ballot box (and the BBC report refers to it as ‘the’ ballot box for the polling station, not ‘a’) coming back empty. At that point, someone ought to have checked with the staff running the polling station to see if no one had come in to vote during the day. There’s also questions about how none of the agents or candidates spotted that a ballot box wasn’t being counted, too.

Officially, though, that ballot box has no votes in it – that’s what the declaration of result says, and that stands as fact, despite what the evidence might say, until someone gets an election court to say otherwise.

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One of the things about having a lot of local elections taking place at the same time is that it’s possible for a lot of rare situations to arise, just by the pure chance of probabilities. And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, two or more of them will crash into each other and create a very interesting situation.

Which is what’s happened in Gwynedd after the recent set of local elections. It all started with a political curiosity back in April, when it was announced that no candidate had stood for election in the Bryncrug ward. It was an odd situation, seemingly caused when an independent councillor decided to retire but no one stood to replace him. So, an odd situation, but one that was likely to emerge somewhere in Wales at sometime, given the sheer number of small single-member wards there where candidates are often returned unopposed.

However, that wasn’t the final twist in this little tale. The voters of Gwynedd had their say last week and this what they said:
Gwynedd election result from BBC News
Yes, 37 Plaid Cymru councillors and 37 others. Perfectly tied, except for the fact that Gwynedd Council has 75 seats, which means that the Bryncrug by-election goes from being an interesting little anomaly to potentially the election that will determine who controls the Council. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll suddenly find hordes of politicians descending on this one small ward in an attempt to root out every last potential voter. There’s almost a potential modern Ealing comedy there – all you need to do is discover some hugely valuable asset that makes control of the Council absolutely vital between two bitterly divided sides, and the hilarity will no doubt ensue.

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