Counting the votes

PUBLISHED: 19:33 07 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:45 11 May 2010

IT seemed, to say the least, unusual. Last Thursday was election night, and there I was watching the results dance across the screen, and not attending the actual count. This, it has to be said, was out of keeping; indeed, seemingly out of character. For

IT seemed, to say the least, unusual. Last Thursday was election night, and there I was watching the results dance across the screen, and not attending the actual count.

This, it has to be said, was out of keeping; indeed, seemingly out of character. For at least the past 30 years I've been at these occasions as an on-the-spot witness to what we like to think of as the drama of the ballot box.

At times, I've shared the jubilation of success and the despair of defeat. I've been there in a different number of guises: from political activist to being a candidate and, more important and more often, as a reporter.

There have been election nights of pure excitement, and those when the whole process seems devoid of any drama.

I've witnessed most of these occasions as a reporter standing on the edge of the proceedings, and seeing people who usually behave in a quiet rational way, going through agonies.

It does, at times, become tense and serious.

You see the anxiety of the drama as the real political activists gather in small groups, holding scraps of paper and punching numbers into pocket calculators.

They talk about percentages and the swing required, and the need to acquire so many votes in a yet unopened ballot box.

It's all taken seriously.

They have conversations which can be earnest and quite bewilderingn as each works out the pattern of the voting from the arithmetic available.

It may be an exercise in political analysis, or pure mathematics on a high level - but in the end it doesn't really matter.

It is, after all, the secret of the ballot boxes that determines the result, in spite of all the calculations and the endless scraps of paper passing from hand-to-hand.

Some years ago, when standing as a candidate and having lost the seat, a reporter from a rival newspaper insisted on an interview in which I would give a detailed explanation of the loss.

I simply told him: "The other candidates got more votes."

The reporter was obviously disappointed. There was no anger or criticism of the rival candidate. I didn't blame the campaign organisation, or dirty tricks. It was, simply, there were not enough votes to be re-elected.

Isn't that the way of all elections? As we're always reminded, it's the votes that count - and that's the way it should be.

And I don't need a calculator or the back of an envelope to tell me that.

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