THE people of West Tyrone go to the polls in the Assembly election today (Thursday) for what’s expected to be one of the most intriguing local political battles for years.
Sinn Féin’s bid to win four seats and the impact of Independent candidates, Dr Josephine Deehan and Patsy Kelly, on the SDLP vote are set to provide the main talking points.
Both resigned from the party a few weeks ago in protest at the SDLP’s failure to select a second female candidate to run alongside Daniel McCrossan.
There is a total electorate of 70,000 who will have the opportunity to cast their votes at 79 polling stations.
Presiding officer for the constituency, Martin Fox, said interest in this year’s poll had been “quiet” despite the high profile defections of Sorcha McAnespy from Sinn Féin and Dr Josephine Deehan and Patsy Kelly from the SDLP.
“It is extremely difficult to forecast what the likely turnout will be, but maybe the last-minute campaigning will have an impact on what seems to have been a quiet run-in to this election,” he said.
“The fact that there is a record 18 candidates for the six seats here in West Tyrone and the potential for extended vote transfers means that a third day may be required to complete the count.
“This, of course, depends on the electorate, but we are hopeful to have the West Tyrone constituency declared by Saturday afternoon.”
Counting begins at 8am tomorrow (Friday) morning, but there will be no all-night vigil for candidates, their election agents or supporters similar to last year’s Westminster poll. Counting will instead finish at around 10pm and start again the following morning.
“You have to be prepared for anything,” said Mr Fox.
“However, we have a good team of experienced staff working, the candidates are well aware of how the process works and my hope is that things will run smoothly.”
A workforce of around 400-500 people will be employed over the course of today’s election and the subsequent count.