man with cup of coffee
The coffee that I made at home before arriving at the polling station

I took this selfie just after arriving in the White Hut last Thursday for the count to find out who would be the new Cwmbran Community Councillor for Two Locks.

There was nothing more to the photo than it just being a way of letting readers know that I was there and the result would be published as soon as it was known.

On Friday 6 May 2022 I spent the day in Pontypool Leisure Centre reporting on the results of 18 Torfaen county borough council and four community council wards. In 2019 I walked out of Cwmbran Stadium at around 3.30am after the count for the Torfaen parliamentary election. Election counts take time with council staff working their socks off to do the count correctly with no mistakes. It’s not just a case of emptying a ballot box on a table and counting.

Obviously, those events were very different from the count for Two Locks ward. This was a single vote for a new representative following the passing of a councillor. In May the county and community council elections took place on the same day. This meant that residents were given ballot papers for all the vacant posts in one, ready for them to pop an X in the boxes. So it was easier to vote for all vacant posts.

The story of that cup of coffee

I live a two-minute drive from the White Hut. I drove as I didn’t fancy a late-night walk home. The two polling stations closed at 10pm so my plan was to arrive at 10.15pm. At 10.05pm I made a cup of coffee in an insulated thermal mug so it would keep hot for an hour or so and jumped in my car.

The photo was shared on social media at 10.25pm and I also mentioned that the turnout was 15.3%. It was a fact and although I felt it was low at the time I didn’t think any more of it.

My wife says I can drag a story out by including far too much detail so I’ll cut this one short. I didn’t expect the result to be announced so quickly. At 10.37pm the deputy returning officer said that Luke Simmonds had polled 241 votes to beat David Thomas who polled 172 votes.

By 10.53pm I had filmed a Facebook Live, posted the result on, shared it across social media and drove home. As I walked through my front door I realised I was still drinking the coffee that I made at 10.05pm. Forty-eight minutes to leave my house, watch an election count, publish the story and get back home- all done on the same shot of caffeine.

15.3% turnout

A total of 413 votes were counted for the two candidates. Some of the votes cast may have been spoiled papers so let’s keep it simple at 413.

About 2,699 residents in the Two Locks ward were sent a polling card to invite them to vote and only 15.3% did. So 2,286 decided not to pop out to one of the two polling stations that were open from 7am to 10pm- or use a postal vote.

Election counts can be long days or nights. That hot cup of coffee told a story to me.

A quick check back showed these were the turnout for Torfaen in the:

2019 Parliamentary elections- Turnout – 59.8% (national turnout 67%)

2021 Senedd Cymru results- Turnout- 37% (national turnout 47%)

What can be done to improve turnout at elections?

Like I said the natural cycle of elections means that turnout in the county or community elections would normally be higher when on the same day as the Parliamentary or Senedd Cymru election. They get a higher profile than a single ward election for a community council. But it’s still so easy to vote.

I tried my bit by giving both candidates space to talk about why people should vote for them.

And if you follow the candidates on social media you can see how active they both were. They certainly didn’t hide away from voters.

‘Candidates didn’t knock on my door’

This comment often comes up around election time but I’d love to dig a bit deeper. I’m 45 and have never spoken to a politician on my doorstep but this has not bothered me at all. I’m out and about a lot so it would be a fluke to catch me at home. Looking at Two Locks there were 2,699 eligible voters so let’s say they live in 1,200 homes. That’s a lot of doors to have a meaningful conversation in the month of a campaign. I’m not saying that politicians shouldn’t work for our votes. But I can’t understand how not seeing a candidate on their doorstep would put anyone off from voting.

All election leaflets have phone numbers, emails and social media links. Candidates are more accessible than they ever have been. It’s so easy for us as voters to contact candidates and ask them what we would ask them on our doorstep. So why don’t we do that?

Do you live in Two Locks? Why didn’t you vote or why did you vote?

I’d love to know. When the result was published on the Cwmbran Life Facebook page it attracted a variety of comments. Turnout was a popular one. Some people said they didn’t know there was an election but when I dug a bit they said they didn’t live in the ward. The one trigger you get to tell you to vote is your polling card with the date and opening times of your polling station. All 2,699 eligible residents received a card with all the info they needed to vote.

Become a postal voter

This was a game-changer for me. I always vote. If you become a postal voter you get all your ballot papers through your letterbox a few weeks before voting day. So it’s easy to follow the candidates and who is saying what and then put your X in the box and pop it back in the post. The weather and time of year must affect turnout. Dark, wet evenings make it less appealing to leave your home to vote.

Click here for the form you need to fill in to become a postal voter. It’s so simple!

Reporting on community councils

This is one for me at Cwmbran Life. Do you feel that you’re more likely to vote if you know what’s going on at council meetings? I’ve made a commitment to get out more and report on these meetings in person.

In recent months I’ve sat at the back of the council chamber at the civic centre a few times and attended the last Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council meeting in July. I’m going to try and cover more meetings to help you see what’s happening in Torfaen.

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