During 2012–13, the AEC’s focus was on being election ready. This required continued election and contingency planning for a range of possible election dates. Often described as Australia’s largest peacetime event, an election covers a vast array of complex and interdependent activities to give more than 14.5 million Australians the opportunity to vote.
This year was the culmination of three year’s preparation by AEC staff in enrolment, education and communication, and election logistics. The AEC goes to extraordinary effort to ensure Australians, at home and abroad, can vote. The AEC manages voting in:
To run the election requires recruitment and training of approximately 70 000 temporary staff, plus the procurement and provision of:
While getting ready, AEC staff implemented legislative changes that will deliver new and improved services at the 2013 election. They include an online postal vote application, easier access to a secret vote for blind and low vision voters and a pilot of electronic certified lists at selected polling places. Electronic lists aim to make the process of marking voters off the roll as efficient and effective as possible.
An added factor in the 2013 election planning was the possibility of a combined election and referendum. While the referendum did not eventuate, preparing for the possibility meant a comprehensive revision of plans, from printing and issuing of ballot papers through to counting votes, and every step in between.
At this stage of the electoral cycle, our focus is on election delivery, but enrolment and electoral education are essential underpinnings. For the AEC, three elements indicate the health of democracy. They are completeness of the electoral roll, the number of people who turn out to vote and the number of formal votes cast.
For the AEC, three elements indicate the health of democracy. They are completeness of the electoral roll, the number of people who turn out to vote and the number of formal votes cast.
Enrolment and education programs have greatest impact when they happen close to an electoral event. We strive to improve the number of people on the electoral roll, the number who vote, and the number who cast a formal vote. Taken together, these three improvements increase the participation of citizens in Australia’s democratic system and help to keep it healthy.
Voting is compulsory for every Australian citizen aged 18 years or over and enrolment is a prerequisite for Australians to vote. A priority for the AEC is to promote enrolment and maintain an accurate electoral roll.
In most countries around the world, voter participation is in decline. While Australia’s participation rate is comparatively high, relative enrolment rates have reduced over the past decade. The estimated number of people missing from the roll reached 1.5 million in 2012.
In July 2012, amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) allowed the AEC to directly enrol or update details of eligible voters, based on data provided by other government agencies. This process, known as Federal Direct Enrolment and Update (FDEU), makes it easy for people to maintain their enrolment. Indeed, many do not need to take further action once they receive a direct enrolment or update letter from the AEC.
FDEU commenced in November 2012, with immediate results. Since its introduction, over 120 000 people have been enrolled for the first time or re-enrolled, and the details of over 532 000 people have been updated.
FDEU will enhance the integrity of the electoral roll by making it both more complete and more accurate. Processing a direct enrolment or update, requires extensive checking to confirm a person’s identity and their entitlement to enrolment. It is expected that direct enrolment will markedly improve enrolment participation over the next two or three electoral cycles, but it is not a panacea for declining participation. Pockets of under-enrolment will continue requiring different approaches to roll stimulation.
Our Indigenous Electoral Participation Program (IEPP) illustrates the need to work closely with the community, at the local level, to increase enrolment.
The AEC continues to search for ways to make it easy to enrol. One of these is online enrolment. More than one million Australians visited the AEC’s website during 2012–13 to enrol or update their details.
From June, the online enrolment system enabled electronic signatures from a PC, smartphone, tablet or similar mobile device. This means enrolment is a complete and accessible online service. This change meets community expectation of simple, online transactions with government.
This voter-centric approach to enrolment does not change the integrity of the roll. Every enrolment transaction is subject to the AEC’s comprehensive verification process.
A budget allocation of $7.3 million funded pre-election enrolment stimulation from May to July 2013. The campaign includes online advertising, social media and a mix of community and direct engagement activities that target Australians in their workplace, sporting club, at sporting events and music festivals. Other activities target people of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, overseas travellers and people who cannot attend a polling place on election day.
Since the 2010 election, a combination of direct enrolment and stimulation activities increased the roll by over 416 000. At 30 June, enrolment participation was 91.4 per cent, up from 89.97 per cent at the 2010 election. There were stronger results achieved in some states; in particular, the Northern Territory was up from 74 per cent to 80 per cent.
Between electoral events, the AEC prepares an engagement strategy to encourage turnout, whether at a polling place on polling day, at pre-poll, mobile polling or by postal vote. Once the rolls have closed for the election, the AEC will roll out a new phase of advertising to prompt voters to turn out and vote.
The research tells us that people are more likely to turn out to vote if they develop a voting habit early. For many of us, a school election is our first voting experience and it can shape how we view and participate in elections as adults.
Get Voting, launched in October 2012, is an in-school program that supports the conduct of fair and transparent school elections, such as for student council representatives. The aim is to make the first electoral experience a positive one and help to establish a life-long habit of electoral participation.
Get Voting includes online election materials for teachers and in-person support from local AEC officers. Over 374 schools have participated in Get Voting since its launch. Feedback from teachers is positive and demand for the program is steadily growing.
The final element of delivering the franchise is to support voters to cast a formal vote. We know informality directly correlates with communities that are culturally and linguistically diverse or have low literacy.
In 2012–13, the AEC recruited 12 community engagement officers to link the AEC with CALD communities. These officers deliver in-language workshops to increase understanding of election processes, with particular emphasis on formality, in the lead up to the election. A post-election evaluation of this approach will determine the AEC’s longer-term community engagement program.
Under a new approach to the AEC’s formality strategy for the 2013 election, the AEC will employ voter information officers. The purpose of the voter information officers is to assist voters complete a formal ballot paper. Voter information officers will be engaged in selected polling places where proficiency in English may be lower or familiarity with electoral processes may be limited, such as CALD and Indigenous communities.
The AEC has contributed to Australia’s national curriculum, with new education resources, in areas that explore Australia’s democracy and link electoral education to the history, maths, English and geography curriculums. These resources provide teachers with experiential activities to increase students’ understanding of the electoral system. This approach recognises that teachers are in the best place to deliver electoral education as part of the broader program of study in schools.
The AEC engages with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The AEC participated in ACARA’s consultation on the draft curriculum for Civics and Citizenship. Post-election the AEC’s education strategy will take a longer-term view and will seek collaborative opportunities with the education sector. The challenge for the AEC and many others in the community is how to affect generational change and drive young people to proactively enrol and vote.
Building on its previous success, the National Electoral Education Centre in Canberra had a record 90 449 visitors.
Voter information officers will assist voters complete a formal ballot paper.
For any organisation, successful service delivery depends on a number of behind the scenes activities and resources, including people and systems. One such activity was a simulated election, conducted across the AEC’s network from June to July 2012, which tested election systems, training and communication.
Significant resources were committed to system improvements and capacity testing. Comprehensive testing and evaluation of IT systems was undertaken and mainframe capacity increased to assure peak election workloads will be manageable.
One of three themes in the AEC strategic plan is ‘Investing in Our People’, which is a program to ensure the AEC has a strong, capable and engaged workforce. A new phase in the program shifts the focus to:
The nature of the AEC’s work and structure of operations shapes workforce capability and culture. In 2012–13, the AEC brought a number of divisional offices together in one location (called a larger work unit). This occurred in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. This structure allows specialist teams to focus on delivering citizen-centric service and gives staff better career progression opportunities.
The AEC also ran the second Rising to Management program and developed operational readiness training programs. The AEC established a sub-committee to drive strategic learning and development. The focus is now on ensuring the learning and development program aligns with capability needs for the next three to five years and works to address gaps so that all AEC staff have access to strong, tailored learning and development opportunities.
While preparing for the election, we took time to plan for future challenges and how to build capability and capacity to meet them.
In May, I convened the AEC’s inaugural ‘navigation meeting’ with the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission the Hon Peter Heerey AM QC, Commissioner Mr Brian Pink, Australian Statistician, the Deputy Electoral Commissioner, and the two First Assistant Commissioners. The purpose was to discuss the AEC’s long-term direction. We considered research and evidence on Australian and international experiences of electoral engagement over the last ten years, and the AEC’s major progress and reforms.
Research, evidence and ideas considered at this meeting are the springboard to the AEC’s next strategic plan and consideration of potential future reforms, particularly directed to turnout, formality and integrity of the electoral system.
As always, I continue to be very impressed by the way that AEC staff met the various challenges that presented over the year and I consider it a great privilege to lead a team committed to maintaining the health of Australia’s democracy by ensuring our electoral system is well run, impartial and independent.