Norfolk decides - voters head to the polls in district council elections and AV poll

Voters headed to the polls today to elect district and parish councillors across Norfolk and Suffolk.

Hundreds of candidates are vying for election and re-election in contests in all seven district councils in Norfolk where there are all out elections everywhere apart from Norwich and Great Yarmouth, where a third of the seats are being contested.

In Waveney the authority is also holding an all-out election for all 48 seats after a third system.

However only two councils, Norwich and North Norfolk, will be holding the traditional overnight election count, with the other authorities beginning their counts on Friday.

As voting got under way across West Norfolk, the proposed incinerator was expected to dominate the vote.

Some 15 anti-incinerator candidates are standing - mostly against so-called twin hatters, who sit on both district and county councils.

There were signs that some voters were also perplexed by the complexity of their ballot sheets. At Hunstanton Town Hall, a steady trickle of voters were greeted with a yellow form containing candidates for the town council election, a white form with choices for the district council and a separate form for the alternative vote (AV) referendum to change the voting system.

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However at Great Yarmouth, where people are also being asked whether or not they want a directly elected mayor polling was said to be slow with turnouts widely reported to be struggling at about 10pc by mid afternoon.

By 3.30pm, only 170 people (12pc) had voted at the Shrublands Centre on Gorleston's Magdalen estate and at 4pm 151 people (less than 10pc) had visited Cobholm Community Centre, the polling station for Southtown and Cobholm.

In Breckland, turnout was reported to be brisk around Breckland, especially in Watton, Dereham and Swaffham.

Breckland's deputy returning office Rory Ringer said: 'Polling stations are not packed out but have had good numbers of people through. At a new polling station in Watton people were queued out of the door at one stage.'

However some people were confused by having three different ballot papers for district, parish and AV votes.

The Tories who are defending a massive majority holding 48 of the 54 councillors, already have six councillors on the new council due to uncontested wards, which also means that 15 polling stations in the district were only holding AV referendum voting.

The first results from Breckland are expected by about 12.30pm on Friday and each council will also produce totals voting for their area later today before the results are calculated regionally and then nationally.

North Norfolk will wake up this morning knowing which party is in control of its district council after an overnight count of the votes.

Liberal Democrats, who before the polls held 29 of the 48 seats on the council - well ahead the Conservatives' 17 - were hoping to avoid losing too much ground amid a likely national rail against the coalition government.

Meanwhile a re-energised local Labour party – who lost all their seven councillors back in 2003 – were working hard to get back in the chamber with a vigorous local campaign.

At Broadland council officials at polling stations said voter traffic was steady. This year also saw 11 new polling stations in the district and increased staff to comply with legislation following people being unable to vote by the 10pm cut off point in other parts of the country during last year's general elections.

More than 15,000 postal votes were sent out with 10, 500 postal ballots returned.

There was a similar picture in South Norfolk, while postal voting had been reasonably high with around 9,500 post votes in out of a registered 16,000.

A steady stream of people had made their way to the polling station at the Taylor Road Meeting Room in Diss by the end of yesterday morning.

Officials said it had been very quiet in comparison with last year's general election turnout with less than 100 people arriving to vote within the first five hours, although they expected numbers to pick towards the end of the working day and into the evening.

In Norwich election staff were expecting a long night. Although only a third of the 39 seats are up for grabs, Electoral Commission rules mean that both the local election and AV ballot papers have to be separated and independently verified before the counts can begin.

In Waveney the district council's press officer Phil Harris said there was 'steady stream' of voters thorough the day as people decided who would represent them in the 48 seats up for grabs.

Waveney is Tweeting the whole election on the twitter social network and with people commenting on a sign that said 'Don't sit on the fence' outside one polling station.

The council's twitter election feed also said that polling stations in Lowestoft were at their busiest during the day between 7am and 9am.

Ken Row, elections manager for Forest Heath District Council, said at midday turnout had been slower than expected. After five hours of the council's district office in Mildenhall being open, some 84 of 1,167 voters had cast their cross.

'I expected it to be poor as I don't think people are really that interested,' he said. 'I certainly don't think the referendum raised turnout to be honest.

'People tend to turn out in batches – after they've dropped the kids at school or after work or after they've had the dinner but we'll never know how many people came out for the election or the referendum. Plus, you've got to wonder, is it a vote for the alternative vote or is it one for the coalition?'

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