By Michael D. Mosettig, former Foreign Editor of PBS News Hour
In contrast to the American model of computer generated projections and losing and winning candidates speaking to supporters in separate rented hotel ballrooms (or in the case of Barack Obama in 2008, an entire city park), elections in the United Kingdom are low key affairs.
From thousands of polling stations, paper ballots are gathered in town and borough halls. As the candidates and their local agents watch, clerks assemble stacks of ballots marked usually in pencil for each House of Commons candidate in a constituency. (Only two constituencies across the entire country vote directly for the person who could become prime minister) As the count goes on, the candidates can tell by the size of the stacks if they are going to win or lose. And then in displays of stiff upper lips, they go on stage together in the late night or early morning hours to hear the town clerk officially announce the results. The process is as charming as it is technologically out of date, but then again, it has never produced anything as disastrous as the Florida U.S. presidential ballot count in 2000. On a national level, the television networks try to project which party will win, but those exit polling projections have been notoriously wrong in the past.