The Committee considered the following report:
“1.0 Purpose of Report or Summary of main Issues
1.1The purpose of this report is to provide the Committee with an update on the Local Government Elections in May, 2023.
2.1The Committee is asked to:
· Note the contents of the report.
3.1The Committee will be aware that the Returning Officer (EONI) appoints the Chief Executive to be the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) for the Local Government Elections. It is therefore his responsibility to organise the Election Count, amongst other things, from the Notice of Election through to the Counting of the ballot papers to determine the 60 Councillors who are elected to serve the Belfast District for the next Council term: May, 2023 till May, 2027.
3.2To assist him in this process, the DRO has appointed Jim Hanna and Stephen McCrory as Assistant Deputy Returning Officers who are authorised to take all decisions in relation to the election in his place. The Chief Executive will be present throughout the count.
Date of Election
3.3This year’s Local Government Election poll was scheduled to take place on Thursday, 4th May, with the Counts to each of the 10 District Electoral Areas to take place on Friday, 5th and Saturday 6th.
3.4However, due to the Coronation of King Charles III on Saturday 6th May and the possible impact on the count, the Northern Ireland Minister has determined that the date of the Election will be moved as follows:
Thursday, 18th May
Overnight verification of unused ballot papers
Thursday, 18th – Friday 19th May
Count - Day 1 (5 DEAs)
Friday, 19th May
Count - Day 2 (5 DEAs)
Saturday, 20th May
3.5The election timetable is attached at Appendix 1 for information.
3.6The venue for all of the counts will be the City Hall. This would require 3 counts to take place in the Great Hall and 1 each in the Banqueting Hall and the Reception Room.
Order of Counts
3.7It is recognised that most Members would prefer the count for the DEA in which they are standing to take place on the Friday rather than the Saturday. In deciding which 5 DEAs should be counted in which room, there are some logistical matters which need to be taken into account:
· The Reception Room is being used as a count venue and it is significantly smaller than the other count venues in the City Hall. The Banqueting Hall is the largest of the venues being used.
· The 10 DEAs do not all elect the same number of councillors. Black Mountain and Ormiston DEAs elect 7 members each; Balmoral and Botanic DEAs elect 5 members each; and Castle, Oldpark, Court, Collin, Lisnasharragh and Titanic DEAs each elect 6 members.
3.10 It is accepted that the number of members to be elected to a DEA does not necessarily mean that the count will take less time to complete but that is the only variable which can reasonably be used to assess which counts should be held in which venue. Accordingly it is suggested that the following breakdown is agreed:
Reception Room – Balmoral and Botanic DEAs (5 members each)
Banqueting Hall – Black Mountain and Ormiston DEAs (7 members each)
Great Hall (1) – Castle and Oldpark DEAs (6 members each)
Great Hall (2) – Court and Colin DEAs (6 members each)
Great Hall (3) – Lisnasharragh and Titanic DEAs (6 members each)
3.11 In 2014 the Committee agreed which counts would be held on which day. It was agreed also that the counts held on the Saturday in 2014 would be held on the Friday in 2019 and this was subsequently confirmed at that time. Again, it is recommended that the counts should alternated and be held as follows:
Friday 19th May, 2023
Reception Room – Balmoral DEA
Banqueting Hall – Black Mountain DEA
Great Hall 1 – Castle DEA
Great Hall 2 – Court DEA
Great Hall 3 – Lisnasharragh DEA
Saturday 20th May, 2023
Reception Room – Botanic DEA
Banqueting Hall – Ormiston DEA
Great Hall 1 – Oldpark DEA
Great Hall 2 – Colin DEA
Great Hall 3 – Titanic DEA
Pre-Election Period of Heightened Political Sensitivity
3.12 The Pre-Election Period of Heightened Political Sensitivity (previously known as Purdah) will commence with effect from 6th April. Whilst there is currently no legislation in Northern Ireland which governs the publicity and council activity during the pre-election period for local government, the Council has previously approved an Election Protocol which provides guidance in dealing with issues which might impact on the election process and a copy is appended to this report.
Motions and Issues raised in advance by Members
3.13 In previous years, Motions and issues raised in advance by Members have been perceived as publicity which could influence public opinion or to promote the public image of a particular candidate or group of candidates. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that these will accepted for inclusion on the agendas for Committees during the month of April (please note that this will require the meeting of the Standards and Business Committee on 18th April to be cancelled).
Financial and Resource Implications
3.14 The costs of the Local Elections in May 2023 will be met out of the existing elections budget.
Equality or Good Relations Implications/Rural Needs Assessment
None associated with this report.”
The Committee noted the contents of the report and agreed the order of the Counts and the noted the proposals in relation to the Pre-Election Period of Heightened Political Sensitivity