Reports coming in from scrutineers and candidates indicates that the Victorian Electoral Commission is once again proposing to use a computerised counting system for the Mooney Valley City Council By-election scheduled to be counted this weekend.
Under dispute is the need to conduct a computerised count for the election of a single member when a manual count would be quicker and require less resources and more important would be more open and transparent.
The use of a computerised count in a single member constituency can not be justified. The time and resources required to undertake a computerised count is much more then it would be if the election was manually counted. Any time saved is only at the expense the public scrutiny by cutting corners reducing the overall quality of the count.
Computerised counting was not used to count the results of the Victorian Legislative Assembly (Lower-house) election in November.
The Victorian Electoral Commissions conduct of the Victorian Legislative Council (Upper-house) election in November 2006 demonstrates that VEC’s computerised counting system has some major problems. Information obtained under FOI indicates that the software used by the Victorian Electoral Commission has not been fully certified and that there is insufficient checks and balances in the system to ensure that the results of the computerised count are accurate and correct.
The Victorian Local Government Act Schedule 3, Part 3 subclause 10 (c) (ii) requires that the VEC undertake a preliminary sort of ballot papers into parcels based on the allocated first preference vote.
The VEC claim that they are exempt from this provision of the act where the election is conducted by post and a computerised counting system is used.
The election is expected to take 24 data-entry operators two hours to count., That’s 48 man hours. A manual count would take four people approximately 4-5 hours to count a net savings of 28 man hours. So where is the benefit of a computerised count, and at what costs,. A computerised count is virtually impossible to effectively scrutinise.
The tally of the 2006 Victorian Legislative Council also required that the Victorian Electoral Commission presort ballot papers into parcels based on the first preference allocation.
This is an important part of the scrutiny of the ballot. Without this provision scrutineers are limited in their ability to undertake a proper scrutiny of the counting of the election. Ballot paper preferences are keyed in a random fashion and scrutineers are unable to focus on a particular candidates preferences.
The VEC electronic shell game
There is further concern that the Electoral Commission refuses to provide copies of the recorded preference data file for independent analysis and review, further denying the opportunities and ability to undertake a proper scrutiny of the count.
This is akin to the con-mans game of three shells and a pea where the returning officer declares the results of the game by lifting up one shell showing that the pea is not there but refuses to show what’s underneath the other two shells.
Use of computerised counting of single member constituencies should be prevented until such time as full and comprehensive review of the electronic voting systems has been undertaken,
A Manual count would facilitate an open and transparent scrutiny of the ballot and would be preferable then the proposed computerised count,
The Victorian Electoral Commission is more interested in playing with its latest toy then it is about public accountability and the maintenance of open and transparent electoral system.
Given the experience of recent past events the VEC management of the electronic count can not be trusted.
The fact that the VEC is prepared to misrepresent the facts in respect to the legislative requirements in order to cut corners is further evidence for a major review of the functions and operation of the Victorian Electoral Commission.
What’s also interesting
In reading the Victorian Local Government Election regulations clause 110 (4) states “Before calculating the result, the returning officer must reconcile the electronic record of ballot papers with the total number of ballot-papers received”.
This is something that was clearly missing from the November 2006 Victorian State Election.
Had the VEC reconciled the electronic record of ballot papers with the total number of ballot-papers received the significant number of errors in the conduct of the election count would not have occurred. A complete lack of due diligence on behalf of the Victorian Electoral Commission
The total number of ballot papers recorded in the final Western Metropolitan count had up to 470 ballot papers missing from the previous count.
There is little to wonder as to why the VEC does not want to publish the polling place details of the 2006 Legislative Council results as it prevents public review and independent analysis of the dodgy electronic election count.
Hopefully these errors in administration will not occur in the NSW State Election count and that copies of preference data-files and polling place results are readily available prior to the declaration of the poll.
Victorian Local Government Act 1989 (version 085)
Schedule 3, Part 3 clause 10 (c) ((ii)
Requires that the ballot papers must be sorted into parcels based on the allocated first preference
PART 3 RESULT WHERE ONLY ONE COUNCILLOR IS TO BE ELECTED
9. Only two candidates
If only 1 Councillor is to be elected and there are only
2 candidates the result is to be determined as follows
(a) the candidate who has received the greater number of
first preference votes is to be declared elected by the
(b) if the 2 candidates have received an equal number of
votes the result is to be determined by lot by the
10. More than two candidates
If only 1 Councillor is to be elected and there are more than
2 candidates the result is to be determined as follows
(a) the candidate who has received the greatest number of
first preference votes if that number constitutes an
absolute majority of votes is to be declared elected by
the returning officer;
“Absolute majority of votes” means a number of
votes greater than one-half of the total number of
ballot-papers (excluding ballot-papers which are
rejected) and if necessary includes the vote by lot;
(c) if no candidate has received an absolute majority of
votes, the returning officer upon receipt of the several
sealed parcels from any authorised person and with
the assistance of any authorised persons and in the
presence and subject to the inspection of any
1 scrutineer, if present, appointed by each candidate
but of no other person, must
(i) open all the sealed parcels containing used
(ii) arrange such ballot-papers together with the
allowed postal ballot-papers, if any, by placing
in a separate parcel all those on which a first
preference is indicated for the same candidate
and preference votes are also duly given for all
the remaining candidates, omitting ballot papers
which are rejected; and
(iii) declare the candidate who has received the
fewest first preference votes a defeated
(iv) distribute the ballot-papers counted to the
defeated candidate amongst the non-defeated
candidates next in order of the voters’
(v) after the distribution again ascertain the total
number of votes given to each non-defeated
(d) the candidate who has then received the greatest
number of votes if that number constitutes an absolute
majority of votes is to be declared elected by the
(e) if no candidate then has an absolute majority of votes
the process of declaring the candidate who has the
fewest votes a defeated candidate and distributing the
ballot-papers counted to the defeated candidate
amongst the non-defeated candidates next in order of
the voters’ preference is to be repeated until
1 candidate has received an absolute majority of votes
and is declared elected by the returning officer;
(f) if on any count 2 or more candidates have an equal
number of votes and 1 of them has to be declared a
defeated candidate, the result is to be determined
(i) by declaring whichever of those candidates had
the fewest votes at the last count at which those
candidates had a different number of votes to be
(ii) if a result is still not obtained or there has been
no count, by lot by the returning officer;