POLLING stations across Northern Ireland experienced a teatime rush yesterday as people voted in what is being billed as the most open European election for decades.
Good weather was expected to ensure a reasonably healthy turnout and yesterday afternoon traffic at polling stations was described by one Electoral Office official as “slow but steady”, though numbers of voters picked up as the day progressed
Turnout at the last European poll in 2014 was close to 52 per cent, although that coincided with a local government election.
Eleven candidates are competing for three seats elected from a single constituency covering all of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland and Britain had not been scheduled to hold European elections but the decision to delay Brexit made it necessary to elect MEPs.
When the polls closed last night at 10pm, the process of transporting more than 1,450 ballot boxes to the counting centre at the Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt, Co Derry got underway.
However, counting of votes will not begin until Monday morning when all elections across the EU have been completed.
The first results from Northern Ireland are expected on Monday afternoon – with Sinn Féin’s Martin Anderson and Diane Dodds expected to be comfortably returned – though it could be as late as Tuesday before the winner of the third and final seat is declared.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long, the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, TUV leader Jim Allister and Greens leader Claire Bailey are among other high-profile candidates.
Meanwhile, voters in the Republic will go to the polls today to vote in both local government and European elections.
Among those standing in the latter is former SDLP leader Mark Durkan who is one of two Fine Gael candidates contesting the Dublin constituency.
Voters in the south will also be taking part in a constitutional referendum on divorce, while there are three local plebiscites in the cities of Cork, Waterford and Limerick, where people will be asked to decide whether to introduce directly-elected mayors with some executive powers.
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