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Local Elections, Cardiff, UK

May 5, 2017

Yesterday, 4th May 2017, people all over the United Kingdom voted for their local council representatives. I was invited as a guest of one of the candidates to attend the overnight count for a number of the areas in Cardiff, Wales. I thought this would be a great opportunity for some Urban Sketching and was proven more than right when I discovered that, other than some press, no photography is allowed during the count.

The Polling Stations close at 10pm so I arrived at the count, which was taking place in a local leisure centre, at around 10.30pm. As I was going through security ballot boxes were arriving from all over North Cardiff and the sports hall was filling up with candidates and agents eager to find out how successful their campaigns had been. For many, it would be a long wait.

It was a busy and, at times, frantic atmosphere, so I decided to draw quick pen and ink sketches in my Moleskine note book. I had come prepared with board and sheets of A3 but when I did settle down to draw the whole scene from a balcony I was told to stop as the balcony was reserved for press only!

The ballot boxes arrive and various stages of the count get under way. Verification of the number of votes, block voting, postal votes etc. For the most part the counting was done alphabetically by area except for one small area that had only one councillor so that was done first. In all the other areas there were 3 or 4 candidates.

There appeared to be a system where voting papers were sorted into various groups, spoiled ballots agreed by the candidates and discarded. Then a team of two counters note down and add up the votes for each candidate whilst they are observed by a supervisor as well as the candidates and agents.

Then the candidates are gathered together by the Presiding Officer and informed of the result in advance of the formal announcement. At this time they can ask for a recount. This happened a number of times during the night as some elections were separated by as little as 8 votes. The number of votes for each candidate is then announced formally on a stage and the winners declared.

It’s a long and tense night for everyone involved although the hours go by quickly.

The hall where the count took place was a large sports hall. Tables were laid out like a barrier all around the hall with counters on the inside and scrutineers, candidates, agents, guests and press mostly around the outside. The ballot boxes are initially placed in the centre of the hall where a number of desks are set up for the voting papers to be distributed from.

The majority of the count was finished by 7am on the 5th May – a long exhausting night for many. At 7am the count stops for two hours and then resumes for re-counts and finalising any counts as yet unfinished when a new team of counters arrives.

Overall it was a long but, at times, exhilerating experience, watching democracy at work, which hopefully comes across in these sketches. And now to get some sleep . . .

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