Thursday 8th June 2017
General Election Polling Day, for which as High Sheriff I was Returning Officer for both our County constituencies. Robert and I arrived at the Hereford Leisure Centre just after the close of the polls at 10.00 p.m. I had had a very thorough briefing from Colette Maund, Herefordshire Council’s Head of Electoral Services, and Erica Hermon, the Deputy Head of Law and Governance, but I was nevertheless unprepared for the sight of the main sports hall set up with trestle tables, with overhead signs numbering each counting area and the sheer numbers of people waiting to start the counts for our two County constituencies: North Herefordshire, and Hereford and South Herefordshire.
I met Alistair Neill, the Chief Executive of the Council, who was in overall charge, and he explained the layout of the room and the roles of each area. As the ballot boxes arrived from the polling stations one of the count officials announced over the public address system the table it would go to. The first step was to count and record the number of ballot papers in each box and ensure that the numbers matched the totals recorded at each polling station; then postal votes were mixed with votes cast earlier that day; and then the count proper could begin. Colette had predicted results between 3.00 and 4.00 a.m., and the scene of concentration and activity was most impressive.
Every now and then Robert and I took a break from watching the counting and caught up with national events on the television in the foyer of the Leisure Centre. To say that the results starting to come in from around the country confounded expectations would be an understatement.
One particularly interesting aspect of the count was the reviewing of doubtful ballot papers – doubtful because the intention of the voter might not have been clear, or where more had been written on the ballot paper than the simple X against one candidate. Representatives of the candidates were able to see the papers and to challenge the judgement of a senior official if they disagreed; but all the issues I saw were quickly resolved.
As Colette had predicted, the constituencies were ready to declare at about 3.20 a.m.: Hereford and South Herefordshire first, and then, after a short delay for a partial recount, North Herefordshire. I was given the paper with all the numbers and then on the dais, with the candidates standing first in one constituency and then the other declared the results. My congratulations go to Jesse Norman and to Bill Wiggin, and my best wishes to them for the service they will give to the people of our County in the new Parliament. My last duty was to endorse the Writs for each constituency – the legal proof that they are MPs.
The Council had hired the Sports Hall for 24 hours, and less than 20 minutes after the declaration of the second result the hall had been almost completely cleared of all the tables, chairs, signs, computers, printers and boxes – very impressive.
I was most grateful to Alistair Neill for his company during the evening, and for the support he and his staff gave me as Returning Officer. Special thanks too to Colette Maund, the Head of Electoral Services. The whole team, both permanent staff and those brought in for the count, performed superbly; it was a very efficient and impressive operation which reflected great credit on everyone involved.
I think I have now just about caught up on my sleep!
Thursday 8th June 2017