Ballot boxes, breaking news alerts, and an endless piles of sugary snacks and sweets. What’s it really like to cover a general election as a journalist?

For a lot of people, the words ‘General Election’ never really drum up much excitement. You’ll find that many go to bed, sleep through every count and breaking news alert to wake up in the morning with a reluctant “humph”.

They shrug their shoulders as they disregard whatever party’s colour lights up their phone screen.

The General Election count at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington.The General Election count at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

This is the case for many people in my life. I am the designated political friend who explains every poll, vote and happening as a lot of them are massively disengaged – many don’t even know who their MP is.  

So, when the announcement for the general election came, it felt like Christmas for us as journalists. The Echo was buzzing as we tried to figure out who was going where, and who’s standing? Who is attending each count?

My post ended up being Darlington – and attending a count in person is something I’ve waited for a very long time.

It feels like yesterday that I was a 19-year-old first-year university student sitting on my parent's sofa as the clock ticked down to 10pm on December 12, 2019.

I remember the proclaimed Brexit election all too well - and the lead-up that saw the party leader Boris Johnson try to drum up support right here in the North East.

Darlington's new MP Lola McEvoy.Darlington's new MP Lola McEvoy. (Image: CHRIS BOOTH)

A Conservative landslide lit up the television in front of me – and I was gripped. As I was in the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency, it wasn’t long before I found out that Labour’s Bridget Phillipson had retained her seat.

I quickly vowed to myself that I would have a front-row seat at the 2024 General Election - and that day finally came on July 4, 2024.

You see the counts on TV every election and the chaos of workers running hither and thither with boxes filled with reams of paper – but you never know what it’s going to be like in person.

Poised, plugged in, and seated on the balcony of the Dolphin Centre, we got our first glimpse of the count.

Set up in a U formation in the hall, the counters were quiet and waiting in anticipation for the exit poll at 10pm. Unable to sit still, they were stirring in their seat awaiting both that all-important exit poll and for the first ballot box to be rushed into the hall.

Darlington's new MP Lola McEvoy.Darlington's new MP Lola McEvoy. (Image: CHRIS BOOTH)

A hush… all quiet. The atmosphere changed at 10pm. The exit poll swung in and predicted an astonishing 410 seats for Labour.

Darlington was declared for Labour as were others across the region. Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Redcar were all set to fall to Labour in one fell swoop.

However, despite the early Labour declaration in Darlington, it wasn’t over yet. Candidates including the Conservative Peter Gibson entered the hall with the opinion that all was not lost.

After all, if you looked at the tables at the centre of the room it seemed like it was a strong show for the Tories as well as for Labour’s Lola McEvoy.

The count in Darlington at the Dolphin Centre.The count in Darlington at the Dolphin Centre. (Image: CHRIS BOOTH)

We believed there could have been hundreds, maybe a thousand in it. Minutes felt like hours as we rushed about waiting for the call to come down and stand at the podium to hear those all-important numbers come in.

Then, we got down to the exciting part. Going from tweeting to live coverage to the interactive map, trying to keep up with each declaration across the country with the constant swishing of ballot papers in the background at my own count. It was chaos – but it was great to see it all in person.

We swiftly got the results out and had a brief chat with winning candidate Lola McEvoy before finally leaving the Dolphin Centre at around 3am – exhausted, exhilarated and eager to see more.


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Weary eyed and sleepy, I finally walked out of the office a few hours later at 5am as dawn broke - sun peaking over town as I had the realisation that my sleep schedule was well and truly screwed. 

History was made this week – and it was an honour and a privilege to be a small part of the coverage from across the country.

As for next time? I'll be there - and I just can’t wait to do it all again.