After I launched the campaign to Save General Election Night to ensure that votes are counted and results delivered overnight at the general election, a number of spurious arguments have been offered for wanting to overturn the traditional Thursday count in favour of Friday morning counts.
One of the claims regularly made by Returning Officers wanting to delay counting until the Friday was that thousands and thousands of postal votes get handed in on polling day at polling stations and that under new regulations it would take hours to verify them, thereby making it impossible to deliver a result on the night.
Quite why you would apply for a postal vote if you do not intend posting it rather baffles me. In any case, I happen to believe that the Government has now made postal votes far too readily available, but that's an argument or another day.
The point is this: do voters really deliver postal votes to polling stations in their thousands?
And the answer, Eric Pickles has discovered, is no. In a written parliamentary question to Tory MP Gary Streeter, in his capacity representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, he asked for information on the number of postal ballot papers handed in on polling day in each of the last five by-elections.
The answer came as follows:
"The returning officers for the last five UK parliamentary by-elections have provided the following estimates of the number of postal ballot packs handed in at polling stations on polling day:
Glasgow North East (12 November 2009) – 270
Norwich North (23 July 2009) – 180
Glenrothes (6 November 2008) – 125
Glasgow East (24 July 2008) – 116
Haltemprice and Howden (10 July 2008) – 180"
And before anyone says they were all on unusually low turnouts, the figures were 33.0%, 45.8%, 52.3%, 42.2% and 34.4% respectively – all of which, apart from Haltemprice and Howden, accounted for at least two thirds of the previous general election turnout.
The case for delaying counts is weakened yet further.