WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on a sad end to another Croydon tradition
Another decision by cash-strapped Croydon Council is responsible for the end of yet another tradition: Inside Croydon’s unrivalled and extensive dusk-to-dawn election night coverage of the count.
That’s because Katherine Kerswell, the council chief exec and the returning officer for tomorrow’s borough-wide elections, has decided not to begin counting the votes until 5.30pm… on Friday.
No official reason has been offered by Kerswell for this decision, although Fisher’s Folly insiders suggest it is because the venue for the count, Trinity School, the £20,000 per pupil per year private school in Shirley, needs to use its sports halls that have been assigned for the election count during the school day on Friday.
Election day is tomorrow, with polling stations around the borough open from 7am to 10pm (use our widget at the bottom of this page with your postcode and address to check your correct polling station, and get a list of candidates for Mayor and in your ward).
In the past, the 10pm shutdown of polling stations has been followed by a rush of the ballot boxes to the count venue, and the start of – in the case of Croydon – a laboriously slow process of vote counting.
In 2014 and 2018, and at the General Elections of 2017 and 2019, the Croydon count set all kinds of records for being slower than other similar election authorities.
This will be Kerswell’s first borough-wide election in charge as Croydon’s Returning Officer (she oversaw last year’s council by-election votes, held on the same day as the London Mayoral election, with the count taking place in west London).
But it appears she has opted to follow some of the precedents set by her predecessor, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.
So the decision was taken to hire the facilities at Trinity School, at a cost to Kerswell’s Returning Officer budget of at least £7,000.
That those facilities are inadequate to the purpose required is demonstrated not only because the counting halls are not available throughout May 6, but also because three different school buildings – two sports halls and a concert hall – will need to be used to conduct the counts for the 28 council wards and, for the first time, the count for Croydon’s elected Mayor.
Considering the hire cost, the inadequate counting hall space and Trinity School’s non-availability for an immediate count, questions will be raised once more about why the council is not using its own facilities to carry out this important election function: as well as being in the town centre and easier to get to for more people, it’s not as if the Fairfield Halls is being over-used these days…
According to the council’s own figures, more than 350 council staff will be working on the election count, mostly through the night on Friday, and most of them on overtime rates paid for out of Kerswell’s Returning Officer budget.
There will be vote verification conducted from 10pm on the night of the election, Thursday, but the count proper will not start until after school’s out the following day.
And then, from 5.30pm, the only votes to be counted will be those from the Mayoral election.
That could be a double-count process.
Ward-by-ward, electors’ first preference votes will be counted. Once these are all checked and verified, and any requests for a recount submitted, if no candidate has 50per cent or more of the vote then the second preferences of six of the candidates – those who were placed third to seventh, plus Winston McKenzie – will be sorted and counted, and added to the top two where appropriate, until there is a final tally.
Kerswell has decided that it will not be until after the identity of Croydon’s first elected Mayor is decided, announced and all the speeches made that her battalion of election assistants will roll up their sleeves and start the count for the borough’s 70 elected councillors. Best-guess when that could be is close to chucking out time on Friday night.
It could be breakfast time on Saturday morning, May 7, before the final ballot papers and ward tallies are all declared.
That, at least, could ensure that Croydon keeps another of its less-than-proud records: of being the slowest of all London boroughs to finish its local election count.
- For the official list of council election candidates, by ward, click here
- For our report on the eight candidates for Croydon Mayor, click here
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