Annual Report 2013–14

Report on performance

Election management

As voting is compulsory in Australia, the AEC provides a range of accessible and convenient ways for Australians to vote. Election management also involves preparation, printing and transport of ballot papers, arrangements for counting the votes – known as scrutiny – and the processes and systems needed to deliver timely and accurate results.

Overview

In 2013–14, the AEC prepared for and delivered three federal parliamentary elections:

  • 2013 federal election
  • 2014 Griffith by-election
  • 2014 Western Australian Senate election.

2013–14,1 performance highlights include:

  • finalising election preparations to ensure that policies, processes, materials and support systems were in place for the federal election held on Saturday, 7 September 2013
  • more than 1 800 candidate nominations processed
  • around 43 million ballot papers printed and distributed
  • more than 1.2 million postal vote applications processed
  • operating 685 pre-poll voting centres, 568 mobile polling teams, 115 overseas voting centres and 8 475 election day polling places over three elections
  • counting 15 212 997 votes
  • planning for the next federal election commenced.

Election planning

Election planning is a continuous process that extends throughout the electoral cycle. Preparations for the 2013 federal election unfolded in a dynamic operating environment that required the AEC to maintain parallel policies, procedures, systems and training.

Early election announcement

In January 2013, the then Prime Minister indicated that the federal election would be held on 14 September 2013. The AEC commenced early preparations towards this date but, in the absence of an election writ, remained prepared to deliver an election at short notice.

Referendum proposal

On 25 June 2013, the Senate passed a referendum proposal to recognise local government within the Constitution. The referendum was to be held on 14 September 2013 (the original election date) and the AEC commenced the necessary preparations, including designing the Yes/No pamphlet and referendum ballot papers.

The announcement of an election for a different date – 7 September – meant that constitutional timings could not be met and the referendum did not proceed.

2013 federal election

On Sunday, 4 August 2013, the then Prime Minister announced a federal election for Saturday, 7 September 2013. The writs for this election were issued on Monday, 5 August 2013. Table 3 shows the key dates for this election.

Nominations

Nominations were accepted from a record 1 188 House of Representatives candidates and 529 Senate candidates. All nominations were officially declared and draws for positions on the ballot papers were conducted in line with legislative requirements at noon on 16 August 2013. Table 4 and Table 5 show the breakdown of nominations by state and territory.

Distribution of ballot papers

Immediately after the declaration of nominations, the AEC began to print and distribute ballot papers in time for early voting to begin on Tuesday, 20 August. Around 43 million ballot papers were printed and delivered for use at more than 8 500 polling locations throughout Australia and internationally.

Provision of voting services

The AEC delivered a range of voting services to ensure that all eligible Australians, regardless of location or circumstance, were able to vote. Facilities for voting included:

  • 7 697 ordinary polling places on election day
  • early voting facilities operating at 645 locations and AEC offices for up to three weeks before election day
  • 102 overseas voting centres operating from Department of Foreign Affairs and Austrade posts around the world
  • 504 mobile polling teams
  • four overseas Australian Defence Force polling teams
  • telephone voting services for voters who are blind or have low vision, allowing them to cast their vote in secret and with a degree of independence.

Types of votes cast

The AEC counted the votes of 13 822 161 people at the 2013 federal election. Continuing the trend from previous elections, there was a significant shift towards early voting. Votes cast before election day in 2013, which included 1.98 million ordinary pre-poll votes, represented more than 27 per cent of all votes counted – some 1.37 million more early votes than were counted in the 2010 federal election. Table 6 shows the number and percentage of each type of vote counted.

For the 2013 federal election, a total of 230 926 voters were registered as general postal voters, and the AEC received 1 098 289 postal vote applications. A significant number of these – 382 664 (33 per cent) – came through the new online postal vote application form. The AEC issued 1 329 948 postal voting packages – an increase of 37 per cent compared to 2010. The proportion of returned postal votes included in the count was similar to that in previous elections, as shown in Table 7.

Counting

Counting of votes in both House of Representatives and Senate elections commences on election night and continues in the weeks that follow.

The counting of votes cast on election day began at the close of polling. Results were progressively updated during the evening through the media feeds and the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website. The Virtual Tally Room provided reliable, rapid access to results and was used extensively by members of the public, the media and political parties. The subsequent processing of declaration votes issued in Australia and overseas was achieved in accordance with AEC plans, and the results were progressively updated and published in the weeks following election day. All writs were returned by 6 November 2013, within the legislative timeframe.

Where a candidate does not receive an absolute majority of first preference votes in House of Representatives election or a quota of first preferences in a Senate election, a distribution of preferences is required. Wherever required, the vote counting process included distribution of preferences to determine the elected candidate(s).

Election projects and issues

Partnership with Department of Human Services

At the 2013 federal election the AEC expanded its partnership with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to help deliver important election services. This allowed the AEC to use DHS facilities and staff across Australia to provide wide-scale services to the public during the election. These included:

  • election service centres – in divisions with no physical AEC office DHS provided a number of locations where the AEC could deliver face-to-face election services to voters
  • assistance with mobile polling – in some remote regions DHS provided staff and infrastructure support to help deliver voting services
  • blind and low vision voting call centre – DHS provided call centre facilities and staff to help voters who are blind or have low vision to cast their vote
  • AEC election contact centre – DHS provided call centre facilities and staff to help with enquiries from the public.

The partnership with DHS proved highly effective and it is intended that it will continue in future elections.

Electronic certified lists

The certified list is the official copy of the electoral roll used to mark off voters’ names when they come to vote. At the 2013 federal election, electronic copies of the certified list were loaded onto 768 laptop computers and deployed across all states and territories. Electronic certified lists (ECLs) were used by mobile polling teams and at early voting centres and polling places. ECLs allow polling officials to search for and mark a voter’s name off the certified list, print House of Representatives ballot papers on demand and record the issue of a declaration vote. ECLs were also used to support the preliminary scrutiny of absent and pre-poll declaration votes after election day.

ECL devices used a mobile broadband network to deliver real-time updates to a central copy of the certified list when a network connection was available.

In the 2014 Griffith by-election, ECLs were used by 145 polling officials issuing votes on election day. At the 2014 Western Australian Senate election, 218 ECLs were used for remote mobile polling and in a majority of pre-poll voting centres. They were also used at the ‘Perth super-booth’, which provided ordinary voting services for all Western Australian divisions on election day.

The pilot of ECLS devices delivered a number of benefits:

  • ability to reduce the number of paper certified lists
  • more accurate mark-off of the certified list
  • reduction in the number of apparent multiple marks
  • more accurate division identification during declaration voting
  • more accurate and immediate data for business intelligence analysis
  • faster preliminary scrutiny processing rate
  • improved voter/polling official perceptions.

Results of the pilot of ECLs will be used to determine how the technology can best be delivered on a wider scale.

Turnout and formality

The turnout rate2 for the 2013 election was 93.98 per cent of entitled electors for the Senate and 93.23 per cent for the House of Representatives.3 Overall, turnout increased by 0.01 per cent compared to the 2010 election; however, the 2013 result is still one of the lowest on record since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924.

Formality rates4 were also similar to the 2010 federal election. House of Representatives informality increased slightly from 5.6 per cent in 2010 to 5.9 per cent in 2013. Senate informality decreased from 3.7 per cent in 2010 to 3.0 per cent, remaining within the historical range of two to four per cent recorded since the introduction of above-the-line voting in 1984.

The unique environment for each federal election and the very nature of the secret ballot mean it is not always possible to identify all the factors that impact on rates of informal voting. After each election, however, the AEC conducts research to identify possible factors that influence informal voting. Research into informal voting at the 2013 federal election is currently underway. Research outcomes from previous elections are published on the AEC website.

Western Australian Senate recount and missing ballot papers

In Western Australia, close margins at key stages in the distribution of preferences in the Senate election led to a request for a recount. The Australian Electoral Officer for WA declined the request but it was subsequently granted following an appeal to the Electoral Commissioner. During the recount, 1 370 Senate ballot papers included in the first count were found to be missing and so could not be scrutinised or included in the recount.

The missing ballots created significant doubt about whether the final result of the election truly reflected Western Australian voters’ intentions. As a result, the AEC lodged a petition to the Court of Disputed Returns seeking an order that the result be declared void and a fresh election ordered. On 20 February 2014, the court determined that the circumstances surrounding the missing ballot papers had disenfranchised voters and therefore cast doubt on the final result. The court declared the result of the 2013 Western Australian Senate election void and ordered a fresh election. More on these events is provided in the ‘Year in review’ and ‘Governance and accountability’ sections of this report.

In November 2013, the AEC engaged Mr Mick Keelty AO to investigate the circumstances surrounding the loss of ballot papers. The AEC released Mr Keelty’s report, Inquiry into the 2013 WA Senate Election (Keelty Report), on 6 December 2013.

The report contained a series of recommendations, many of which concerned improvements to the AEC’s management of ballot papers. To implement these recommendations, the AEC introduced new and revised procedures at the 2014 Griffith by-election and 2014 Western Australian Senate election. The new initiatives delivered improved procedures for printing, packaging, transport, handling and storage of ballot papers.

2014 Griffith by-election

On 22 November 2013 the Member for Griffith, the Hon Mr Kevin Rudd, resigned. The writ for a by-election was issued on Monday, 6 January 2014. Table 8 shows the key dates for this by-election.

Nominations

The AEC accepted nominations from 11 candidates for the Griffith by-election. Nominations were formally declared and the draw for positions on the ballot paper was conducted in line with legislative requirements at noon on 17 January 2014.

Provision of voting services

The facilities for voting included:

  • 40 ordinary polling places on election day
  • early voting facilities operating at two pre-poll voting centres and AEC divisional offices for up to three weeks before election day
  • four mobile polling teams.

Types of votes cast

The AEC provided voting services to 80 275 people in the Griffith by-election. Table 9 shows the number and percentage of each type of vote counted.

Counting

As for the federal election, counting of votes cast on election day began on time and results were progressively updated during the evening through the media feeds and the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website. The subsequent processing of declaration votes issued in Australia was conducted and the results progressively updated and published in the weeks following election day.

By-election projects and issues

Improved security and handling of ballot papers

For the Griffith by-election the AEC implemented many of the recommendations in the Keelty Report. These included:

  • new ballot paper principles
  • ballot paper secure zones
  • documented chain of custody of all ballot papers
  • improved training for staff and implementation of new staff roles
  • improved rubbish and waste management policies
  • greater guidance on packaging ballot papers for return.

The AEC successfully integrated the initiatives into the delivery of election services to provide assurance that all ballot papers were fully accounted for. More information on the implementation of these new initiatives is provided in the case study ‘Delivering reform at the Griffith by-election’.

Additional integrity measures

A number of additional measures were implemented at the Griffith by-election. While these did not arise directly from the Keelty report recommendations, they addressed the intent behind them. Measures included:

  • an official list of AEC officers authorised to print ballot papers for the Griffith by-election
  • regular scans of computer network drives to ensure ballot paper images were not being saved
  • improved arrangements for secure transportation of all certified lists, including tamper-evident materials and tracking
  • mandated clear visual identification – AEC branded purple bibs – for all permanent and temporary AEC staff at polling sites
  • strengthened character clearance procedures for temporary staff, including the introduction of police character checks.

Electronic certified lists

Following the successful trial of electronic certified lists (ECLs) at the 2013 federal election, 145 ECLs were used for voter mark-off at the Griffith by-election. The smaller size of the by-election meant that ECLs could be used in all polling locations, including pre-poll voting centres and polling places on election day. As a result, the Griffith by-election became the first federal parliamentary election in which no paper copies of the certified list were used for voter mark-off (though they were available as back-up in case of ECL device or system issues).

2014 Western Australian Senate election

On 20 February 2014, the Court of Disputed Returns determined that the result of the 2013 Western Australian Senate election was void and ordered a fresh election. On 28 February 2014, the Governor of Western Australia issued the writ for an election on Saturday, 5 April 2014, to fill the six vacant WA Senate positions. Table 10 shows the key dates for this election.

Nominations

Seventy-seven nominations for the 2014 Western Australian Senate election were accepted. There were 33 groups of candidates and two ungrouped candidates. The nominations were declared and the ballot paper draw was conducted at noon on 14 March 2014 in line with legislative requirements.

Provision of voting services

Facilities for voting included:

  • 738 ordinary polling places established on election day
  • early voting facilities operated at 38 pre-poll voting centres and AEC divisional offices for up to three weeks before election day
  • 13 overseas voting centres operating out of Department of Foreign Affairs and Austrade posts around the world
  • 60 mobile teams
  • telephone voting services for electors who are blind or have low vision.

Types of votes cast

The AEC provided voting services to 1 310 561 people at the 2014 WA Senate election – a three per cent drop compared with the Western Australian figure for the 2013 federal election but still significantly higher than the levels usually recorded at by-elections.

Most people cast their votes at polling places on election day, but more voters in this election cast pre-poll and postal votes than in the 2013 election. The number of pre-poll ordinary votes increased by 12 per cent and the number of postal votes increased by 18 per cent.

Table 11 shows each type of vote counted as a percentage of the overall number and compared to the 2013 federal election. Figure 6 illustrates the comparison.

Figure 6: 2014 Western Australian Senate election – vote types

Figure 6: 2014 Western Australian Senate election – vote types

Counting

Counting of votes for the WA Senate election began on time and results were progressively updated through the media feeds and the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website. Declaration votes issued in Australia and overseas were processed in accordance with AEC plans and the results were progressively updated and published in the weeks following election day.

Election projects and issues

Further improved security and handling of ballot papers

Using lessons from the Griffith by-election the AEC further refined its policies and procedures to improve security and control of ballot papers to ensure these could be applied effectively on a larger scale. Additional steps taken in the 2014 WA Senate election included:

  • updated forms to better record the chain of custody of ballot papers
  • close oversight and review of the implementation of new policies and procedures
  • new packaging materials to improve security of ballot papers
  • a new Divisional Materials Manager Supervisor role to oversee operations at centres where materials from multiple divisions were stored and counted
  • a new role of State Materials Manager to provide oversight and assurance of materials management across the state.

Again the AEC successfully integrated these initiatives into the delivery of election services to ensure that ballot papers were accounted for at the election.

Additional integrity measures

As at the Griffith by-election, a number of additional measures were implemented for the WA Senate election. These included all the additional measures introduced at Griffith as well as:

  • improved visitor registration procedures
  • an expanded Keelty Implementation Taskforce, which maintained a presence in all divisions to support staff over the election weekend.

Electronic certified lists

At the 2014 WA Senate election, 218 ECLs were used for remote mobile polling and in a majority of pre-poll voting centres. They were also used at the ‘Perth super-booth’, which provided ordinary voting services for all WA divisions on election day.

Once again, the use of ECLs realised a number of benefits and efficiencies, including:

  • more accurate mark-off of the certified list
  • more accurate division identification during declaration voting
  • more accurate and immediate data for business intelligence analysis
  • faster preliminary scrutiny processing rate
  • improved voter/polling official perceptions.
Programme 1.2 Election Management – key performance results 2013–14
Key performance indicators 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14

Federal election events (including by-elections and referendums) successfully delivered as required within the reporting period. AEC election practices and management are in accordance with relevant legislation. All election tasks carried out in accordance with legislated timeframes.

Not applicable

No requirement to conduct a federal election, by-election or referendum.

Not applicable

No requirement to conduct a federal election, by-election or referendum.

Not achieved

Successfully delivered all House of Representatives elections and one by-election. Successfully delivered two territory and five state Senate elections.

AEC process deficiencies led to the Western Australia Senate election being voided.

Successfully delivered the re-run WA Senate election in April 2014.

High level of election preparedness maintained and key milestones set.

Achieved

Continued preparations for the next election, including enhancing systems, equipment and procedures necessary to conduct an election, and supporting ongoing staff readiness.

Achieved

Put in place enhanced systems, equipment and procedures necessary to conduct an election. Focus was on taking as much work as possible out of the election period.

Achieved

Systems, equipment and procedures necessary to conduct an election were in place for 2013 federal election, 2014 Griffith by-election and 2014 WA Senate election.

Successfully put additional ballot paper security processes and policies in place for all events following 2013 federal election.

  1. The figures provided in ‘Performance highlights’ above reflect the combined totals in each category for the three elections delivered in 2013–14: the 2013 federal election, the 2014 Griffith by-election and the 2014 WA Senate election. Individual totals for each of these elections are provided in the report that follows.
  2. The turnout rate is calculated by dividing the sum of formal and informal votes cast at the election by the number of people entitled to vote in the election.
  3. The difference between the House of Representatives and Senate turnout figures is primarily due to a number of declaration voters who were issued ballots for their claimed enrolled address but who were subsequently found to be enrolled in a different division in the same state or territory. Their Senate votes can be counted because the Senate electorate is state-wide but votes issued for the incorrect House of Representatives division cannot be counted.
  4. ‘Formality’ refers to the percentage of voters who complete a ballot paper that can be counted as a valid vote.