Northern Ireland voters go to polls for Assembly
Published 06/05/2011 | 05:00
Voters in Northern Ireland went to the polls yesterday to elect the fourth Assembly since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 12 years ago.
There are 218 candidates standing for election to the Assembly across Northern Ireland's 18 six-seat constituencies.
Last night as polling drew to a close, politicians were predicting a low turnout in urban areas in the east but a brisker showing in rural areas to the West.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP in Lagan Valley, said: "I am expecting something in the low 50s at best."
In contrast, Francie Molloy of Sinn Fein said that turnout in south Derry and mid Ulster had been brisk.
"I am pretty confident that we have got our vote out and it has been fairly steady at the polling booths," he said.
Stephen Barr, the UUP's director of communications, said: "It is polling reasonably well in the country areas like Fermanagh and Newry and Armagh.
"It is less good in places like Lisburn and North Antrim."
In north and west Belfast some polling booths reported turnouts as low as 30pc.
Wet weather, the first rain in more than a fortnight, may have discouraged voters, but the lacklustre campaign in which no single major issue emerged probably also played a part.
Before the election there were fears that holding a referendum to change the election system for the Westminster Parliament on the same day would confuse voters.
Graham Shields, the Chief Electoral Officer, said that some voters had refused to take the referendum ballot paper or had handed it back after spoiling it by scribbling on it.
Polls suggest that most voters are content to keep the first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins a seat in the House of Commons.
A change to the alternate vote system would have seen voters mark their ballots in order of preference.
If no one won a majority on the first count, votes of the lowest-ranked candidates would be distributed according to preferences.
The referendum was the condition on which the perennially third-place Liberal Democrats joined a new coalition government last spring led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.