One year, I counted votes at an election. The local authority asks for volunteers from among their employees and so I volunteered to work as a counter. We had the option of working at a polling station but I rather preferred having the day off on the Friday rather than sitting in a polling station all day.
We were put into small counting teams with a senior who had experience of counting before and we were allocated a ‘ward’ as it was a local council election and attended a short training session to inform us about how the count would proceed, what to expect and various other issues.
On arriving at the counting centre, we donned the lovely local authority t-shirts we were given, in a colour bright enough to render them useless for anything except sleeping in in the future!
We didn’t really talk during the vote. There was a pile for spoilt ballots which was checked later by a more senior official sometimes with candidates. Some of the spoilt ballots were obvious (the ones with swear words, for example, or little pictures), some less so. Some people had clearly completely misunderstood what they were supposed to do with a ballot paper!
While we were counting, the candidates and their representatives circled the tables like vultures. I had been allocated the table of the Leader of the Council and it was a close fight so there was a lot of interest. Sometimes it felt like the politicians were almost trying to distract us!
We noticed some of the other ‘tables’ leaving as the night drew on. After our ‘ward’ was counted we were allowed to leave but ours was running very close.
At the first ‘result’ there were a handful of votes in it so we were asked to recount. And then asked to recount again.
At the third time, a result was allowed as there had been no changes in the recount process. This was quite big news as the leader lost his seat. We were the last ‘ward’ to leave.
I always wanted to volunteer again because I rather enjoyed being a part of the democratic process in this way but as time has passed, the willingness of my managers to allow me the time off has faded. I always say ‘next time.. ‘ but it’s always good to have an insight into different experiences.
It’s the same reason that although it’s a bit of a drag to get to my polling station, I still opt to go rather than register a postal vote. I quite like the process of going in and voting in a booth. It feels more of an event.
And this year, after I cast my vote, I’ll spare a few thoughts to those staying up all night to count the votes. Especially in marginal constituencies!