Casting a vote is just one important part of the electoral process. The next stage is, of course, counting those votes.

Here’s everything you need to know about the election count process.

When does the election count begin?

In the UK polls close at 10pm and the acting returning officer should make sure that the count begins within four hours of this cut-off point.

How does the election count happen?

Firstly the number of ballot papers are counted. Then, the votes on each ballot paper are counted. The second stage is supposed to begin by 2am the day after the election.

What is a returning officer?

A returning officer is an integral part of the election day process.

While the returning officer (RO) is often the one seen reading the result on stage, it is largely a ceremonial role usually performed by a local mayor or sheriff – most of the administrative work is done by the acting returning officer (ARO).

[Read more: What's it like to be a returning officer on polling day?]

The ARO’s duties include printing ballot papers, booking polling stations and count venues, appointing station staff and managing the postal vote process.

There are also deputy returning officers, who help out the acting returning officer.

[Read more: Election 2017 - Latest news] 

Who counts the votes in a general election?

Supporting the acting returning officer and deputy returning officers are the counters and their supervisors. Many counters are current or former council employees, but positions can also be advertised. Those who have campaigned or worked for a political party or candidate cannot be counters. You must be over 16.

Who is allowed to be at the general election count?

Electoral staff – returning officers and counters – are of course allowed at the count. Additionally, each candidate, their election agent and one other individual they nominate is entitled to attend.

As for the media and members of the public, it is up to the returning officer to decide whether to allow them to attend. The returning officer has the final decision about who attends the count.

Why are some constituencies late to report the count?

The size of constituency and its geographical location can affect how long it takes for the votes to be counted. According to Press Association estimates based on council information and historical data, the Northumberland constituencies of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Blyth Valley and Wansbeck are all expected to declare at noon on Friday.

At the other end of the scale, the three Sunderland constituencies are set to declare some 12 hours earlier, with Houghton & Sunderland South expected to be the first constituency to declare for the third election in a row - the city’s former constituency of Sunderland South was first to declare in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005.

A declaration can also be delayed by a recount prompted by a close result.

What is the closest ever election result?

While there were a couple of very close results in the 1997 UK General Election – with Mark Oaten gaining the Winchester seat with a majority of only two votes (in a result that was later annulled) and Adrian Sanders gaining Torbay with a majority of 12 – we have to go back to 1886 to find the last time there was tie in a constituency. In Ashton-under-Lyne that year it was a dead heat and according to the rules of the day, the returning officer had the casting vote. 

Click to here to read more about what happens if there is a constituency tie.