Elections can bring about powerful political moments that become firmly lodged in society's civil memories. Perhaps the most classic example happened 14 years ago in the 1997 General Election: "Where were you when Portillo lost his seat?"
Last Friday night - well, technically last Saturday morning - I realised that for most people the answer to "Where were you when the NI referendum count finally finished?" was going to be, quite sensibly, "tucked up in bed fast asleep". But for eight people, their alternative answer was "at the Kings Hall!"
It was a quite a contrast to the previous referendum in Northern Ireland – the Good Friday Agreement poll – which was announced in the same Kings Hall venue to vast crowds of waiting politicians, campaigners and the world’s media.
After the final constituency count completed in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, the regional AV referendum result for Northern Ireland was finally declared at 2.10am in an almost empty Kings Hall … shortly after the overall UK result was finally able to be announced in London.
No official media were present when the announcement was made by Graham Shields, EONI’s Chief Electoral Officer, who stood at the special referendum podium that had otherwise remained unused all day and addressed the gathered group. Two Electoral Commission staff, one former Chief Electoral Officer, three Yes Campaign reps, and a blogger/electoral observer.
Collating the results together for the referendum ballot boxes that had been verified and counted in the eight count centres across Northern Ireland, the local results were less negative than much of the rest of the UK.
Total number of ballot papers counted – 668,869
The number of votes cast in favour of Yes was – 289,088 (43%)
The number of votes cast in favour of No was – 372,706 (57%)
The number of ballot papers rejected was as follows:
a) No official mark – 0
b) voting for both answers to the question asked – 637 – this includes people who voted 1 2
c) Writing or mark by which the voter could be identified – 24
d) Unmarked or void for uncertainty – 6,401
The total rejected votes was – 7,062
The sharp eyed amongst you will realise that the numbers don’t quite tally, and there were in fact 13 missing votes – which is not unusual with a poll of this size. And the pre-printed date had to be changed from 6 May to the 7th!