Derry and Strabane election count lasts 84 days and result still isn't official

The Foyle Arena in Londonderry is a centre of excellence for Judo, and outside its a statue outside depicts two figures grappling with each other, trying to drive his opponent to the ground.

Sometimes life imitates art.

Twelve weeks ago, the arena hosted the counting of votes for candidates seeking election to Derry City and Strabane District Council.

However, a potential discrepancy was spotted in the Waterside ward.

The ward featured a neck-and-neck race for the last of seven seats. It was a straight fight between Philip McKinney of the Alliance Party and the SDLP’s Martin Reilly.

Two would-be councillors wrestling for victory, just like the bronze figures frozen in combat on the plinth outside.

McKinney lost out, but the margin was just 49 votes.

And when he was eliminated, there were still more than 200 surplus votes to be transferred (Northern Ireland operates a complex electoral system).

The Alliance Party complained that these surplus votes could have been intended for their candidate. They took their case to the High Court, and the judges agreed.

An order went out that the counting of votes should resume at the point where McKinney was excluded on May 18th, and the surplus votes should be checked.

The High Court ruling meant the Alliance Party and Philip McKinney were back in the race.

Thus, McKinney and Reilly returned to the Foyle Arena - together with a curious media contingent - to watch sealed ballots being opened, and wait while their political fate was once more weighed in the balance.

Staff were keen to stress that it was not a re-count, rather it was a resumption of the earlier count.

In the end, though, the outcome remained unchanged, the seat remained in Martin Reilly's possession although his margin of victory was cut to an uncomfortably close ten votes.

The result, however, remains unofficial. The final score will be announced by the High Court next week.

Another twist in an election count that began 84 days ago.

Judo may be tough, but you've got to be tougher to earn a black belt in politics.

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