I went to the count in support of the Blackfen Independents and for ‘the
experience’ and I am glad I did. The count was fascinating to watch and an
impressive performance by 270 Bexley council staff led by Dave Easton, Head of
Electoral Services. His plans appeared to be meticulous and flawless.
It must be fairly obvious to anyone who gives the requirements a moment’s thought, that if everyone voted in neat, party aligned, sets of three; three Conservatives, three Labour etc. (known as ‘Block Voting’), counting is easy. Just stack the ballot papers and see which pile is biggest. Voters however are not that cooperative and commonly vote in the most staggeringly inexplicable ways. Two Labour plus one Tory. UKIP plus BNP, Mick Barnbrook plus Peter Craske and no one else - yes really! A single vote for UKIP. Every imaginable combination. It may defy logical thought but a huge proportion of voters seem to be hell bent on being as awkward as possible. Simple piles of paper will not do.
‘Non-Block’ voting slips are painstakingly transcribed to a grid on a large sheet of paper which when completed allows a simple arithmetical check that should reveal any mistakes. It’s not absolutely proof against human error but no system will be.
The amount of specialised ‘check’ stationery and input forms required, each tailored to its ward and the candidates standing there, is very considerable and must be the product of very clear minds and expert planning. All the forms (but not the ballot papers) were printed ‘in house’.
I suggested “you must be used to it” to explain away the smooth operation but Dave Easton said no, it was a new system. He had ‘borrowed’ it from another council and tweaked it for local use. Mr. Easton said it was a little slow to deal with Non-Block votes but had the merit of improved accuracy. Unfortunately there was an unprecedented number of Non-Block vote which explains why the count ran well behind schedule.
It would have been nice to have some photographs to provide an idea of the vastness of the operation, unfortunately photography was forbidden. John Kerlen (Olly Cromwell) was jumped on by Chief Executive Will Tuckley for fiddling with his mobile phone. For reasons that were not explained, Conservative councillors and their friends were not subject to this rule.