Don’t Fear The Tally Man

It’s a funny thing how you can spend a lifetime taking an active interest in a subject to find out that really you know little about the actual machinations and processes behind it. Such was it for me who, for the first time in my life found myself at a count centre last Saturday.

A frenetic place full of brisk activity, the count center is the hub of all politics in the region for that one day. Candidates, agents, activists, press people, tally men and women flurry to and fro, phones constantly at their ears, clipboards held closely to their chests, all checking and double checking the votes, trying to figure out what will become abundantly clear in a few hours anyway. Why bother? Why not everyone take a lie in and let the counters do their job and wait for the result to be announced? Why not put an end to this ludicrous practise of trying to second guess the people who are entrusted with the responsibility of counting our votes? Dammit! Why not go the whole hog and pull out those old e-voting machines and save all that time and bother?

The answer quite simply is trust, or to be more precise, integrity. Though not official, the function of the tally men, journalists, politicians and others at the count centre,  is to ensure that the count is conducted fairly and properly. The whole operation is carried out on a cross party co-operative basis with the full co-operation of the civil servants who are officially charged with conducting the count. Information from tally men is shared, parsed, and analysed several times over and with so many eyes and ears on the proceedings, any irregularities or errors, be they intentional or accidental, will be spotted and quickly brought to the attention of the count officers.

This process of tallying, counting, watching and analysing gives the process it’s integrity far more powerfully and transparently than any e-voting machine could ever hope to, because at the end of the day, seeing, is believing.


About Ronan Gallagher

Writer and Film-maker living and working in Leitrim in the North West of Ireland. View all posts by Ronan Gallagher

4 responses to “Don’t Fear The Tally Man

  • wheelsofire

    I was a predsiding officer in the recent elections. (No, not the guy who gets to read out the results – that’s the returning officer) and like you, I found the care and attention involved in the process fascinating.
    Presiding Officers are those who issue the ballot paper, and together with the clerk are there to do everything possible to ensure that electors get their votes. Which is not necessarily the simplest thing in the world. Luckily for us, all went smoothly and no one was turned away.
    A oouple of things amazed me. First was the number of people who simply did not know the mechanics of voting. Some wanted to know if they had to vote for all candidates, or did they just put an X, or what?
    When I went to school we were taught about this but it wasn’t kids asking,but people in their thirties and forties.
    The other thing which struck me was the sheer level of obesity. Far from being Rubenesque some ws grotesque.
    So it takes many sets of eyes and hands to keep democracy clean.

    • Ronan Gallagher

      Indeed, having tallied at the count in Leitrim I can attest to a large number of spoiled votes which just didn’t seem to be filled out properly, more in error than via spoiling. Maybe we need more ‘civics’ subjects in school.

  • Mary C. Dolan

    Nice one, Ronan. I think there must be a true feeling of participatory democracy at play as well, something that a voting machine cannot provide.

    Kind regards,

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