Eight days, six hundred thousand enrolments
A federal election represents the peak of AEC operational workload following a three-year cycle of planning and preparation. One significant milestone is the close of rolls – the deadline for eligible Australians to enrol or update their enrolment before the election.
The federal electoral roll closes at 8pm local Australian time on the seventh calendar day after the issue of writs for an election. This deadline is designed to give voters enough time to ensure they are enrolled correctly, and the AEC enough time to process enrolments and prepare the roll for production as the certified list – the official record used for voter mark-off on election day.
Historically, an election announcement is a catalyst for voters to either enrol for the first time or update their enrolment details and the 2013 federal election was no different. Hundreds of thousands of enrolments and enrolment updates were received through the AEC’s online enrolment service, by email, by post or fax, or by hand delivery. All had to be checked, entered and rechecked to ensure that details were complete, fully verified and captured correctly in the AEC’s enrolment systems.
Along with other state and territory offices, the AEC’s New South Wales office commenced planning for the 2013 close of rolls almost immediately after the 2010 election. James Carroll, Assistant Director of Roll Management for NSW, noted that, due to population growth, every federal election close of rolls is larger than the one before. ‘The secret to successfully managing ever larger workloads is early planning, flexible systems and teamwork’, James explained. ‘It was vital to prepare early and give staff confidence that capacity and contingencies were in place to manage the increased workload according to the election timetable without compromising roll accuracy and integrity.’
A key feature of the NSW plan was the creation of a central processing team located in Haymarket, Sydney, supported by smaller teams in Parramatta and the Australian Capital Territory. ‘These teams took over the work of processing paper enrolment forms’, James said. ‘This allowed NSW divisional offices to focus on online enrolments, roll integrity and quality assurance processes.’
AEC systems technology was critical to overall management of the workload. In the lead-up to the election, the AEC invested in building system capacity and enhancing system performance to ensure that it could meet peak demand. ‘The investment really paid off’, James said. ‘The NSW state management team was able to monitor systems and the capacity of divisional offices and then reallocate processing tasks whenever we needed to even out workloads across the state.’
Staff began processing data shortly after the issue of the writ on 5 August 2013 and continued to receive enrolments until the deadline on 8pm on Monday, 12 August. During this period around a total of 203 000 enrolment transactions were processed across NSW and the ACT. One-third of these, around 70 000 enrolments, were received in the last two days alone. All were successfully processed to deadline thanks to some 350 staff working in shifts over 36 hours. Across Australia the AEC processed a total of 627 256 enrolments. As predicted, it was the largest close of rolls of any federal election.