Leeds election 2018: 250,000 votes, 1,600 volunteers and three little crosses

A Leeds local election count.
A Leeds local election count.
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Leeds goes to the polls today for an all-out local election to choose 99 new city councillors across 33 wards.

But as you cross the three boxes (remember, you have three votes this year) spare a thought for the army of helpers who are ensuring the massive operation runs like clockwork.

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Leeds City Council’s elections team started preparing in January for today’s big ballot.

But after the notice of election was published at the end of March, and candidate lists were finalised, the 12-strong core team stepped it up several gears.

The dedicated dozen has been working flat out including evenings and weekends for the last few weeks to make sure everything is ready for today.

But it’s not just Leeds’s core election team who are going to be hard at work throughout the day today and overnight at the election count at Leeds’s First Direct Arena.

I have a great team who love the buzz of election day and the count after all the work they’ve put in, even though it’s such a long day.

At church and community halls across the city, 1,200 volunteers will be manning 356 ballot boxes across 346 polling stations.

Once the polls close at 10pm, 12 ballot box collection vans will be ferrying the city’s votes back to the arena for counting. However over half of presiding officers will bring the ballot boxes directly to the count venue themselves.

Once the boxes arrive at the arena, 400 counting staff will start the mammoth task of sifting through a mountain of ballot papers.

Susanna Benton, Leeds City Council’s Electoral Services Manager, is expecting to process 250,000 individual ballot papers tonight.

The Leeds City Council elections team with the Returning Officer (Tom Riordan) taken after the General Election count in 2017.''(L-R) Nabbeal Hussain, Rachael Cotton, Tony Meek, Claire Denton, Tom Riordan, Susanna Benton, Sue Wolfe, Damian Kearney, Ange Smith, Kim Fitzpatrick, John Beevor, Cassie Barraclough and Kamil Kulig.

The Leeds City Council elections team with the Returning Officer (Tom Riordan) taken after the General Election count in 2017.''(L-R) Nabbeal Hussain, Rachael Cotton, Tony Meek, Claire Denton, Tom Riordan, Susanna Benton, Sue Wolfe, Damian Kearney, Ange Smith, Kim Fitzpatrick, John Beevor, Cassie Barraclough and Kamil Kulig.

A veteran at dealing with the inevitable election day chaos, she has been working with the team for 22 years and heading it for seven.

She explains: “On election day, my team start at 6am and they will work right through until the count finishes, approximately 6am the following day.

“I have a great team who love the buzz of election day and the count after all the work they’ve put in, even though it’s such a long day.”

She also paid tribute to the army of volunteers helping the vote go smoothly.

Susanna Benton

Susanna Benton

“People come back year after year,” she said.

Despite the mountain of ballot papers coming her way tonight, Susanna doesn’t mind, and she and her team just want everyone to get out there and exert their democratic right.

“These elections are different because electors have the chance to vote for three candidates following the recent boundary changes,” she said.

“Local elections are important – and I encourage everyone to vote today.”

LEEDS LOCAL ELECTION FACTFILE

According to Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures, as of December 1, 2017 there were 555,764 electors (not including attainers, i.e. 16 and 17 years olds) in Leeds.

BALLOT BOXES AT THE READY: Voting opens at 7am and closes at 10pm.

BALLOT BOXES AT THE READY: Voting opens at 7am and closes at 10pm.

The Leeds local election count is due to begin at around 10pm tonight, with verification between 10pm and 1am, and count processes between 1am and 4am.

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm today.

Your poll card will tell you the location of your polling station, and you will find more information on how to take part at www.yourvotematters.co.uk.

This year, Leeds voters will be asked to make three choices on their ballot paper. Mark your choice(s) with an ‘X’. This means that the one, two or three candidates that receive the most votes will be elected.

Voters who have opted to vote by post need to make sure their postal ballot pack is returned by 10pm and can hand it in at their polling station if they don’t have time to return it by post.