Open and transparency review suppressed

The Victorian State Parliament following a complaint from the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Steve Tully, has removed publication of submissions made to the Electoral Matters Committee. The submission which is critical of the conduct of the 2006 Victorian State Election raised concerns that the Chief Electoral Commissioner may have mislead the parliamentary committee in his evidence and report where the Commissioner claimed that copies of preference data files were destroyed during the last election, with an allegation that the Commission is engaged in an cover-up and avoidance exercise to prevent proper scrutiny of the 2006 State election.

The State Parliament has been called on to initiate greater oversight in the conduct of public elections following the disastrous errors in the computerized counting systems that occurred in the 2006 State election and the 2008 Municipal Elections.

The submission outlined issues of concern about the lack of openness and transparency in the computerized counting system introduced in Victoria and the failure of the Commission to provide copies of the preference data files and its failure to reconcile the total number of votes with the information recorded on the voting centre return declarations. As a result of this ommission the total number of votes recorded for the Western Metropolitan Region had changed between the primary count and the second count.

‘The Parliament needs to make sure that the total number of ballot papers recorded are reconciled with voting centre returns to ensure that all ballot papers are properly accounted for and that there is no repeat of the situation where hundreds of ballot papers go missing between counts as was the case in the Western Metropolitan Region. The Victorian Electoral Commission must be required to produce a reconciliation report of the voting centre declarations outlining the total number of ballot papers that have been issued and returned prior to the commencement of data entry of ballot paper preferences. All votes should issued and returned be accounted for on Election night.

Further the Parliament needs to investigate the data management process of the Electoral Commission following evidence that copies of the detailed preference data files had been overwritten and were not available for independent review or scrutiny. “It is conceivable that the Electoral Commission did not maintain backup copies this crucial and important data. It costs Millions of dollars for the Commission to collate this information. Any professional IT management would ensure that all crucial data in the vote counting was backed-up as a matter of course as part of a disaster recovery plan. If backup copies were not made then there are major issues that need to be reviewed.”

The submission, which was pulled from publication on Friday, called on the State government to restore public confidence in the conduct of electrons in Victoria by ensuring that the public elections remain open and transparent and that crucial information is readily available and that the Victorian Electoral Commission is held accountable for its actions.

The submission also outlines a serious complaint of ongoing harassment and intimidation against witnesses to parliamentary inquiries by the Chief Electoral Commissioner and has called on the State Parliament to remove limitations in the Ombudsman Act that prevent the Chief Electoral Commissioner from being investigated by the Victorian State Ombudsman.

A complaint has been lodged with the chairman of the Victorian Parliamentary Electoral Matters Committee which will review the submission which has been removed from the parliament’s web site.

The Electoral Matters Committee meets next Monday to consider this issue.