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In the majority of other countries (such as the US, Canada, and many countries in Europe), votes are counted at each individual polling stations. This allows us to get indicative results rather quickly, and usually the counters to go home quite early.

The UK, on the other hand, transports all votes to a counting centre within each constituency, meaning it takes hours to get anything indicative outside the exit poll.

Why do we still take votes to counting centres and not simply count them in the polling stations?

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    Counting votes in the US may involve sending to a central counting station. – Brythan Sep 10 '17 at 14:08
  • I did not know that manual counting is done at the polling station. I know that the US and Canada make extensive use of voting machines. I also know that electronic counting is unconstitutional in Germany, and not used in the UK. Can you cite countries that have manual vote counts at local polling stations. – James K Sep 10 '17 at 14:17
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    Canada doesn't use voting machines, at least not at the federal level. Votes are still counted manually at polling stations (source: Elections Canada) – Joe C Sep 10 '17 at 14:22
  • What's the rush in finding out the results right away? Wait for the morning and you'll have them. – JonathanReez Sep 11 '17 at 15:40
  • @JonathanReez Given the mutually incompatible desires for an election system to be fair, secure, transparent, quick and cheap, it's a justified question, especially since different countries have come up with different answers, depending on history and perceived risk. It's like the (related) use and recording of serial numbers on issued UK ballot papers themselves, which lowers the secrecy of the ballot, but increases the security of the chain of provenance in the history of the ballot boxes. – origimbo Sep 11 '17 at 16:51
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The main reason is so the whole process can be overseen by the returning officer and the candidates, who are allowed to scrutinize the work of the counters to ensure fairness. When there’s one counting centre for a whole constituency, every single counter can be watched by both neutral overseers (the returning officer) and the most balanced set of partisan observers (all the candidates) at the same time.

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    It's worth noting that the rules and circumstances for UK elections also make recounts fairly common (either for a particular candidate, or for the whole ballot). Since some election fees get refunded if a candidate crosses a particular vote threshold it isn't guaranteed to be a case of "recount the first two". – origimbo Sep 10 '17 at 18:45
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To list a few extra structural considerations:

  • UK law makes it illegal to publish live election data before the polls are closed. This is taken seriously enough that a sitting MP received a police caution for tweeting results from postal votes during the 2010 cycle, meaning it's likely full counting would only ever begin once the polls closed.
  • Ballot papers are now issued to any voters waiting at polling stations at the cut off time of 10pm. This pushes back any estimate of a reasonable average start time to something like the 10.30 watershed on the exit poll. Allowing an hour or so for counting and collation means that the indicative result would miss that night's news cycle and thus most people wouldn't actually hear it any earlier.
  • In many urban areas (and some rural ones), counts are frequently consolidated so that a single location counts multiple different ballots. This gives cost savings in terms of organising tellers, while retaining the oversight from the candidates or their agents.
  • Given that the result of the election generally depends on a small number of marginal constituencies (US readers should think swing states) indicative results released before proper auditing could easily be just as inaccurate as the exit poll during the 7 or so hours it matters.
  • Not all locations used as polling stations in the UK are well suited for a late night recount.

You might also like to consider that the largest parliamentary constituency in the UK is Ross, Skye and Lochaber at about 12,000 square kilometres, whereas the largest Canadian federal riding is Nunavut at about 2,093,190 square kilometres. There's no reason to suppose the most rational counting scheme for one is also the most rational for the other.

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