Innovation may speed up vote counts

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A Derry-developed innovation being used in the Scottish council elections could be coming home to speed up Northern Ireland’s marathon vote counts.

The counts taking place across Scotland are being done electronically with the aid of technology created by north west company Opt2Vote. The results from the 32 Scottish council areas are expected within just five hours.

Northern Ireland’s chief electoral officer Graham Shields is travelling to Edinburgh with officials to observe how the e-counting system works in a live election and whether it would be suitable to use back across the Irish Sea. The Scottish local government poll uses the single transferable vote (STV) system - similar to the Assembly and council elections in Northern Ireland.

Mr Shields will be accompanied by members of Stormont’s committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) as well as officials from Belfast City Council.

The visit comes ahead of a presentation on e-counting by Opt2Vote and the Electoral Office NI to political representatives at Belfast City Hall at the end of the month.

OFMDFM committee member Colum Eastwood said it was useful to examine ways that counting could be done more efficiently. “Our most recent Assembly and council elections were at times dogged by delays,” said the SDLP MLA.

“The addition of a referendum and the complexity of our PRSTV (proportional representation through the single transferable vote) system undoubtedly played a part in these delays. It is right, however, to identify where greater improvements and efficiencies can be made.”

The Foyle MLA also hailed the achievements of Opt2Vote. “I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the Derry company Opt2Vote’s technology in operation,” he said.

“They have produced some of the most innovative technology in the electoral services field. The use of their technology in a major local election in Scotland is a mark of great success.”

Opt2Vote was recently bought by international software company IDOX for £3.5 million.