The switch to all postal voting in South Tyneside Council elections takes another step forward tomorrow (Wednesday 17th April) with a full demonstration of the electronic counting system.
South Tyneside is one of only four Councils in the country where all postal voting and electronic counting is being introduced to encourage more people to vote.
Ballot papers will be sent to all 115,384 registered voters in South Tyneside between April 18th and 28th. Each will have its own unique number and bar code.
The voting procedure will remain total secret using a very secure double envelope system. All the voter has to do is mark the ballot paper with a black or blue pen or pencil and place it in a pre-paid return envelope, together with a signed Declaration of Identity which is placed in a separate smaller envelope and returned by post with the ballot paper.
Election staff at the Town Hall will separate the Declarations and check that they match with the sealed ballot paper, which is then placed in a secure ballot box prior to counting.
Votes from the ballot boxes will then be removed at the two counts (Temple Park Centre for the South Shields wards and Jarrow Community Centre for the Jarrow and Hebburn wards). Both counts start at 10.00am on Polling Day Thursday 2nd May.
Voters are being encouraged to return votes by post as soon as possible before April 30th. Votes can also be accepted at one of six Council office locations. The last time for postal votes to be accepted will be 5.00pm on May 2nd,
The votes will then be placed into electronic counting machines which read each vote. Any votes rejected by the machine will be adjudicated by the Returning Officer.
Only votes accompanied by the signed Declaration of Identity will be passed for inclusion in the electronic count.
The results will be locked into the electronic counting machines until after traditional polling stations in neighbouring Council areas are closed at 9.00pm.
The electronic counting machines will then produce the results in each of the 20 wards being contested on South Tyneside. The Returning Officer will then declare each result separately.
A full demonstration of the electronic counting machine, together with detailed explanations of the procedures for opening and processing postal votes by the Returning Officer, Mr Chris Bradley, will be presented at the Town Hall, South Shields at 5.30pm on Wednesday 17th April.
Candidates, agents, election staff, media and police representatives are being invited to attend the demonstration.
The electronic counting machine can deal with an average local authority of 120,000 voters within three hours. The machines are totally secure are designed to read the special inks on the ballot paper making it impossible to submit anything except an authentic ballot paper.
As the all postal voting system and electronic counting is totally new, all eyes will be on South Tyneside to see how well the experimental system works.
Media Representatives are invited to attend the Postal Voting Electronic Counting demonstration in the Reception Room at the Town Hall, South Shields at 5.30pm on Wednesday 17th April.