Two Lancashire councils plan election count delay

Two Lancashire councils are on a collision course with Westminster over their plans to delay the count of General Election votes in key battleground seats.

Chorley and Lancaster councils are both defying the will of Labour and Tory politicians by insisting on counting votes the day after polls close.

Donna Hall, the chief executive of Chorley Council, today blamed the increased number of postal votes at this year's election, saying it is "in the interests of accuracy" for the Chorley constituency count to be delayed.

Meanwhile, Mark Cullinan, chief executive of Lancaster Council, said his authority was also planning to delay the count of the Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency and the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.

Councils are being asked to start within four hours of polls closing after an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill was approved by the House of Commons.

However, the amendment has yet to be made law and, with the General Election expected on Thursday May 6, some councils are still planning to delay their counts.

Donna Hall's decision is even more controversial given the view of independent website UK Polling Report that Chorley is one of the two key "bellwether" seats at the election – constituencies which historically have always been won by the party that went on to form the government.

Ms Hall says the main reason for delaying the vote is because "over 30% of Chorley voters are postal voters" and these votes will have to be verified and scanned before they can be counted.

She said: "We would like to count on the night because there is an adrenaline and a buzz factor about the elections.

"However, if it is a combined local and General Election we will have over 140,000 votes to count and in the interests of accuracy we would prefer to count on the Friday."

Boundary changes mean that the Chorley constituency is actually shrinking in size, with around 8,000 voters in Mawdesley, Eccleston, Croston, Bretherton and Ulnes Walton now falling within the newly-drawn South Ribble constituency.

Chorley Council insists that those votes will still have to be collected in local polling stations and election officers will then have to take them across to South Ribble for counting.

But an angry Lindsay Hoyle, Chorley MP, today hit back, saying that the council's stance is "absolutely absurd".

"I think the public have a right to know who is forming the government and who is their MP.

"There are only two things different at this General Election compared to 2005 – we have a smaller electorate and a different chief executive.

"If it's too much for the new chief executive then we ask for the old chief executive to come back and show her how to do it," he said.

In Lancaster, Mr Cullinan blamed procedural changes, geography and the need to count the votes of two different constituencies for wanting to start the count on Friday.

He said: "Even with a smooth run, we would not be able to declare until 6am Friday morning at the earliest.”

But Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith said: “I think we need instantaneous democracy, not slow motion democracy.”