Confusion is expected at the polls when the people of Sussex vote for their first Police and Crime Commissioner today (November 15).
Under a “supplementary voting system”, electors will be asked to mark their second preferences on their ballot papers – some of which will be counted if no candidate wins an overall majority.
Extra returning officers have been drafted in to help rule on whether ballots which have been filled in wrongly can be counted.
Supplementary voting where there are two columns by each name has been used before, for example at the London mayoral elections, but never at nationwide elections.
Voters mark their first preference in the first column and the second preference in the second column.
If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, all but the two leading candidates are eliminated.
The second choices on the votes for the eliminated candidates are counted and any in favour of the two remaining candidates are added to their totals.
Counts are taking place in different borough and district council areas on Friday, November 16.
Each will then send in their results to the Brighton and Hove count at the Corn Exchange in Church Street, Brighton, where the figures will be displayed on an electronic screen.
Follow the live updates on the Argus website from the count on Friday.
Crawley Borough Council chief executive Lee Harris is overseeing the collation of the pan-Sussex results at the Corn Exchange. The winner is expected to be announced late in the afternoon.
Extra training has been provided for staff, including a dummy count of second choice votes.
The new system is expected to lead to a rise in the number of so-called “doubtful ballots”, where voters have not followed instructions properly but their intention might be clear.
Common errors returning officers are expecting to see include leaving the first column blank, voting twice in the first column and voting for the same candidate in both columns.
At the Corn Exchange, six deputy returning officers will continuously work on doubtful ballots.
A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: “Some of the extra training has been around dealing with doubtful ballot papers.
“This is because we can expect, from the experience of other elections using supplementary voting, that there will be a higher number of these than at normal counts.
“The training has been based on materials produced by the Electoral Commission – examples of these will be available at the count venue on Friday.
To add to the pressure on the counters, high-profile figures including former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, have called on voters to spoil their ballots in protest at the introduction of the elections.
Under the Electoral Commission’s guidelines, “doubtful ballots” must be considered and the number of rejected ballots will have to be given after both the first and second counts.
The Government has been criticised for the lack of publicity surrounding today’s poll.
In an online survey of visitors to the argus.co.uk, 40% of 2,000 people said they would take part in the elections.
But the Electoral Reform Society has predicted only 18.2% of the electorate might take part.
If the votes mirror the Sussex-wide results of any of the last four general elections, no single party will receive more than 50% at the first count.
In that case, the second votes would decide the election.
At the 2010 general election, the Conservatives got 46.4% of the vote, the Lib Dems 27.7%, Labour 16.5% and UKIP 4%. The Greens got 2.7% at that election, and the BNP just under 1.1% - but neither party is fielding a candidate at this election.
Brighton and Hove, Crawley, Hastings and Eastbourne have been the only areas to see parliamentary seats change hands since 1997.
In 2010 the Conservatives scored majorities of more than 10,000 votes in Wealden, Worthing East and Shoreham, Worthing West, Horsham, Arundel and South Downs, Bexhill and Battle, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Chichester, Horsham,
In 1997, when Tony Blair’s Labour party achieved a landslide victory nationwide, the Conservatives in Sussex still had 42.1% of the vote, with Labour on 26.7% and the Lib Dems on 24.8%.
The commissioner will be able to hire and fire the chief constable, produce an annual “policing plan”, set targets and priorities for Sussex Police, set the budget and set the council tax precept.
All those jobs have until now been done by police authorities – panels made up of councillors reflecting the political make-up of the main councils in the county, balanced by independent members. The commissioner is paid £85,000 a year.
He or she will be scrutinised by a police and crime panel, drawn from local councils, who will have the power to veto the proposed council tax precept and choice of chief constable.
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