Change that counts
to the Victorian State Parliament
Electoral Matters Committee
Functions and Administration of
Review of the report submitted by the Victorian Electoral Commission Submission
4a - dated May 27, 2010
By Anthony van der Craats
May 31, 2010
This submission paper seeks to address a number of issues
and concern in relation to the paper published by the Victorian Electoral
Commission dated May 27 2010 – Functions and Administration of Voting Centres.
The Victorian Electoral Commission gave an undertaking to
fully disclose information related to the conduct of the election
On Page 8 of the report the Commission indicated that “A
Full account and Analysis of the election (2006) were documented in the VEC‘s
Report to Parliament”. This statement is false and misleading. Information was missing and data supporting a
full account of the elections results was not provided. No detailed explanation has been given to
explain the changes in the total number of ballot papers recorded at the
primary count in comparison to the Secondary Final count for of the Western
Metropolitan Region and the fact that the total number of votes does not tally
with the information tabled in relation to the voting centre returns and the
corresponding lower house districts. Whilst the errors in data entry in
relation to the Northern Region had been explained as a result of a lack of due
diligence and failure of the electoral commission to reconcile ballot papers
recorded with the expected number of ballot papers listed in the voting centre
Copies of the preference data file pertaining to the primary
count had not been made available and the data had been destroyed/overwritten
with no data backup process in place.
The Commission failed to respond in a timely fashion in providing copies
of the preference data-files as requested prior to the commencement of the
count. As a result of omissions and
errors by the Commission full disclosure and independent analysis was unable to
be undertaken. The report by the
Commission does not address this issue or the issue of data protection and
security of electronic data.
Most important the commission has not outline the process
and availability of access to copies of electronic preference data other then
limited access to printed reports. Access
to copies of the preference data file is essential to enable independent analysis
and proper scrutiny of the transcribed data entry.
The Electoral Commission has not outlined in a comparison
chart the costs and man hours required to undertake a data-entry electronic
counting procedure as compared to a manual counting procedure. The number of
scrutineers allowed per candidate is restricted to the number of data entry
personal and does not take into consideration the number of support staff undertaking
other administrative duties in preparation for the data-entry process. Whilst many tasks can be parallel process
they come at the cost of a loss of openness and transparency as the information
recorded cannot be readily verified by scrutineers. Provision of the preference data files allows
Scrutineers to undertake independent analysis and review of the data files and
the ability to properly scrutinise the results of the election.
Comments in relation to the Victorian Electoral Commission’s report - Appendix
3 – Upper House Count
Ambiguity and uncertainty exists as to who holds the
position of Returning officer as outlined in the Election Act. No explanation
has been provided as to why there is not a duly appointed Returning Officer who
is responsible for each lower-house district.
There appears to be an excessive middle layer of election
officials between the chief Commissioner and the eight regional returning
It is noted that the commission is proposing a double
data-entry process (something that was not undertaken in previous elections)
this proposal is welcomed as it should improved on the quality and accuracy of
the data-entry process. The Commission has not outlined in detail how this
process will be undertaken. Access to
copies of the electronic preference data-files for each data-entry process must
be made available to scrutineers with certified copies published at the
conclusion of each stage of counting and prior to the commencement of the
subsequent stage. Without access to this
information it is impossible for scrutineers to verify to the full extent the
validity and accuracy of the recorded data. (See below)
Proposed commencement of counting postal votes
The Commission has proposed to commence the counting of
postal votes at 6PM on Election Day.
The early commencement of counting postal votes will limit
the number of resources available to provide proper scrutiny as candidate’s
resources are generally tied up with overseeing the conduct of voting
Given that the number of postal votes may not have been received
by the Commission It is recommended that the counting postal voting commence no
earlier then the Sunday following the Election Day.
Voting Centres Election Night
Publication of Voting Centre return statistics
The voting centre return statistics including the tally of
Upper house above the line and below the line first preferences should be
published on the Commission’s Internet site as a matter of course on election
night. This would allow for scrutineers
and election official to reconcile the number of ballot papers issued and
returned prior to being transferred to a regional centre. This information would also allow candidates
to plan and allocate resources required for further scrutineering of the
elections results at later stages of the count.
It will also provide a means of ensuring that all ballot papers have
been accounted. The Victorian Electoral
Commission failed to publish this information during the 2006 Election and as a
result it prevented scrutineers and election officials from reconciling the
number of votes with the number of ballot papers recorded in the computerised
Information published on the Commission’s Internet site
should also include statistics on the number of Formal, and informal votes the
total number of ballot papers issued for each voting centre.
In addition each voting centre should also include
statistical information for absentee ballots issued for each district. This
information is essential in order to ascertain in advance the number of
absentee ballot papers that are outstanding and waiting to be received by the
district office. This information should
also be available as part of the published voting centre statistics.
All of the above information should be readily available as
it should be included in the Commission’s EMS database and form a part of the
voting centre return/declaration. If it
is not collected or included in the Commission’s EMS system then changes to the
system should be required to ensure that the above information is collected and
available on election night. Copies of
the voting centre summary report should be provided to scrutineers.
The Commission’s report failed to include or mention of the
right of scrutineers to place seals on the parcels of ballot papers being transferred
to central counting centre.
District Election Offices
Primary count s of absent, early, postal and unenrolled
sealed ballots other then the tabulation of the number of sealed ballots
received should not commence on Election Day but be deferred until the
following day so as to allow for the presence of scrutineers if required. No sealed ballot papers should be opened in
the absence of appointed scrutineers.
Region Recheck Centres
Copies of the reconciliation report, including any changes
or alterations to the voting centre declaration should be recorded and copies
of the report made available to scrutineers and published on the Commission’s Internet
Computer Count Process
Prior to the Count
Copies of the reconciliation report, including any changes
or alterations to the voting centre declaration should be recorded and copies
of the report made available to scrutineers and published on the Commission’s
Internet site it is important that reconciliation issues are resolved prior to
the commencement of data-entry. The
total number of votes recorded should not change between counts.
The appointment of a Reconciliation Coordinator is
noteworthy and hopefully will go a long way to avoiding the lack of due
diligence undertaken during the 2006 Election count. Scrutineers or Candidate’s representatives
should have access to all the reports and reconciliation documentation as
signed off by the Reconciliation Coordinator prior to data-entry commencement.
During the Count
The Commission has proposed to undertake a double entry
counting process in the first instance.
This is a welcomed change, although highly resource
intensive, and should help prevent the mistakes that occurred in the 2006
Counting process. However the report
does not provide details as to how the double entry comparison will
It is desired that second round of the double counting
process should not commence until the completion of the first round of
processing. It is noted that the
Commission has proposed this in its outline.
(Paragraph 3 page 5)
As the number of primary voters should already be determined
Scrutineers should be able to formulate a strategy plan to monitor more closely
the data-entry of candidates’ votes that be of interest.
Scrutineers right to access and obtain a copy of the electronic preference
There is ongoing concern that the report submitted by the
Commission does not make mention of access and provision of copies of the
data-file in electronic format. This
needs to be clearly spelt out as the Commission has been relucent or unable to
provide copies of this information in past elections, both State and Municipal.
Copies of the preference data files allow Scrutineers to
monitor and identify any changes in the recorded preferences and if necessary
single out any ballot paper requiring further examination during the second
Scrutineers must be provided with copies of the preference
data files at regular intervals during the count and at the conclusion of the
first stage of the data-entry process.
Scrutineers should be able to process the data-files and generate
independent reports highlighting any ballot papers that may require further
examination. The provision of a copy of
the data files should allow for independent analysis and review. This must not
be dependent or restricted to reports provided by the Commission.
Certified copies of all data files should be published on
the Commission’s web site as and when they become available.
Format of preference data-file
The Commission needs to provide information on the file
format which ideally should be in an XML file designed so as to provide a
reference number to assist in indentifying the correct batch number and ballot
Backup copies of data files.
The Commission must ensure that certified backup copies of
all data files are made and kept prior to the commencement of the second
data-entry process. In the 2006 election the Victorian Electoral Commission
failed to ensure that copies of the primary data-entry count were maintained. The
deletion of this information and the failure of the Commission to provide
Scrutineers copies of the preference data files seriously undermined confidence
in the election process.
Second round of data-entry.
The second round of data entry verification should not be
allowed to proceed until digitally certified copies of the electronic
preference data are published and or made available to scrutineers and backup
It is important that the Reconciliation Coordinator is able
to produce a running tally sheet as to identify the batches that have been
completed and those that are in the process of or waiting to be processed
throughout the count. This report should
be available to Scrutineers in request.
Above the line batching
There is some confusion as to the system proposed by the
Commission in relation to the processing of ‘Above the line’ Ballots. It is
assumed that the Commission is proposing that these ballot papers be collated
and entered into the Commissions EMS system in multiple batches. It is difficult to ascertain on what basis
this needs to be segmented and batched as outlined by the Commission.
It should be possible for the Commission to collate and
tabulate the ‘Above the line’ votes manually and then record the total number
of above the line votes allocated to each group as opposed to segmenting each
group into parcels of 1000 or less ballots.
The system proposed by the Commission certainly does not appear to be
efficient. This process would need to be
observed more closely.
Each ‘Above the line’ ballot paper should not require a
separate data entry process.
There should be no need to determine formality of ‘Above the
line’ votes other than to ensure that no more than one group has been marked on
the ballot paper. The allocation of preferences is determined by the registered
ticket and as such the number of ballot papers should be able to be batched
entered with the total number of ballot papers allocated to each corresponding
Calculation of the result
The Commission must ensure that the total number of ballot
papers recorded in the data entry process including the number of informal
votes reconciles with the expected total number of a ballot papers issued and
returned. This is something that was not undertaken during the 2006 State
election. The number of ballot papers recorded in the 2006 Western Metropolitan
Region did not reconcile with other published information, including voting
centre declarations, the number of ballot papers allocated to the corresponding
lower house district and/or the total number of votes recorded on the first
count as compared to the second count.
There was a discrepancy in the information provided by the Electoral
Commission of up to 450 votes that could not be reconciled.
Certified copies of the data files must be published and
copies distributed to Scrutineers prior to the calculation of the result of the
Scrutineers and Transparency
The Commission had failed to mention the right and ability
of scrutineers to obtain copies of the preference data files in electronic
format periodically on request.
Without access to this information Scrutineers are prevented
from independently reviewing the quality of the data-entry process and or the
conduct of the election count. The Parliament
must ensure that this information is readily available and that copies of the
preference data-files are published and available for public review.
Number of scrutineers entitlements
The statements in the Commission’s report are misleading
There is ongoing concern as to the method used to determine
the number of scrutineers allowed per candidate. The Commission’s report indicates that there
is an entitlement for one Scrutineer per Candidate for every election official. This is not what is currently listed in the
regulations. The number of scrutineers is limited to the number of data-entry
operators. With further limits applied
to the monitoring of other administrative process. In many cases there are more election
officials then Scrutineers are permitted.
The Commission should be required to outline in full a list
of election officials that will be engaged in the election process in order
that the entitled number of scrutineers can be determined. The Commission also need s to ensure that
the facilities provided for the counting of the vote can accommodate the
entitled number of scrutineers in order to meet Occupational health and safety
Feedback from Scrutineers involved in the 2008 City of
Melbourne Municipal election indicated that there was insufficient room and
ventilation provided in the counting room to accommodate the entitled number of
There are questions as to the published threshold of 80
votes as recommended and outlined in the by the Electoral Commission’s report (Paragraph
2 page 31) that would trigger a recount.
This figure is arbitrary and too low and should be reviewed,
Any threshold for consideration of a recount should be
expressed as a percentage of the vote and not a number.
Consideration should be given to allowing a recount at the request
of any candidate or party provided that the variance between any one candidate
falls within 0.5% of the total vote.
In 2006 the Western Metropolitan Region’s primary count
indicated a difference of 150 votes between the winner of the fifth place
candidate and the sixth place contender. Following a recount of the ballot
there were 450 less ballot papers record in the second count then were
accounted for in the primary count. The results of the election had changed
following the second recount of votes. As copies of the primary count preference
data file were not provided it is impossible to fully ascertain where the discrepancy
or changes in the outcome of the vote occurred and the full extent of errors in
the primary data-entry process. Errors
that may have occurred in the second data-entry process were not tested.
If as a result of a recount the overall election results
change as was the case in the 2006 Western metropolitan election then
consideration should be given on request for a third recount to verify the
accuracy of the second recount.
The mistakes identified in the 2006 Northern Metropolitan
election arising from a lack of due diligence undertaken by the Victorian
Electoral Commission staff should not occur as a result of the proposed
requirements to reconcile the total number of ballot papers with the
information recorded in the Voting Centre declarations.
A candidate or party requesting a recount should be able to demonstrate
under what circumstances a change in the allocation of preferences would produce
a change in the outcome of the election.
The availability and publication of the transcribed detailed
preference data-files would allow Scrutineers to identify potential thresholds in
the outcome of the election and as such provide justification and merit for a subsequent
recount. It also provides a means of avoiding unnecessary recounts if the overall
outcome of the election is unlikely to change.
Prior to Election Day
General Postal Voting (GPV)
The Commission should be required to publish the progressive
number of postal vote application per district/region that have been issued and
returned on a daily basis.
Early Voting in Centres
The Commissions should be required to publish the
progressive number of Early Vote applications per district/region/Voting Centre
that have been issued and returned on a daily basis.
Mobile Voting Centres
The Commissions should be required to publish the
progressive number of Mobile Voting applications per district/region/Voting
Centre that have been issued and returned on a daily basis. There is concern
that the period of Mobile voting has been extended to two weeks. Consideration should be given to transferring
mobile voters to the GPV system.
The commission should be required to publish on its web site
the detailed report and statistics outlined in its report. This information should be publicly available
and should not require an application made pursuant to the Freedom of Information.
Electronic Roll Marking
Information should be provided in relation to the proposed
Electronic roll with data made available to scrutineers periodically during the
conduct of the election.