Melbcity: VEC Missing Vote Tally cloaked in a veil of secrecy

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC)’s Tally for the City of Melbourne shows votes have gone missing.  In spite the City of Melbourne’s Returning Officer. Bill Lang. claiming that the data provided to scrutineers was a complete copy of the below the line votes there are votes missing or added into the count that were not disclosed or included in the information provided to scrutineers.

Under the Local Government Legislation the VEC is required to reconcile the number of votes recorded in the computer database prior to running the execute button.  When requested to provide a copy of the reconciliation report the Returning Officer failed to do so.  We wonder why the secrecy?

In 2006 the VEC stuffed up the Legislative Council Northern Metro and Western Metro counts by entering in the wrong data into the computer, No attempt was made to reconcile the number of ballots recorded on the computer records with the number of ballots received.  It is this sought of sloppy administration and cutting corners that continues to bring the VEC into disrepute.  It is made worst when they seek to cover it up and deny information to scrutineers.

Bill Lang said at the scrutineer/candidate’s meeting that “the scrutiny of the ballot is not important”. Something we strongly disagree with.   The scrutiny of the ballot is just as, if not more, important than the counting of the votes.  Without scrutineers and access to the data there is no way of knowing if the results of the election are correct and that the votes have not been tampered with or that the data-entry is in fact a true record.

Public confidence can only be maintained if the conduct of the election is open and transparent and subject to independent scrutiny.  Something that the VEC has failed to enure is maintained

To highlight the extent of inconsistencies in the VEC’s record keeping

On Friday after the close of the poll the VEC reported they had received back a total of 66432 envelopes

The Official Election results published today reports:

Leadership Team (election of 1 Lord Mayor and 1 Deputy Lord Mayor)

Enrolment: 108514
Formal Votes: 62169
Informal Votes: 2827 (4.35% of the total votes)
Voter Turnout: 64996 (59.90% of the total enrolment)

Councillors (9 vacancies)

Enrolment: 108514
Formal Votes: 63664
Informal Votes: 1407 (2.16% of the total votes)
Voter Turnout: 65071 (59.97% of the total enrolment)
 Anyone viewing this information can tell from looking at the above that ballot papers have gone missing or not accounted for. There is a discrepancy between the Lord Mayors Ballot  (649996) and the Council Ballot (65071) of 75 votes – Presumably they were envelopes that had one ballot paper in them and not the other.

The number of missing ballot papers is greater as not all envelopes that have ballot papers missing would have had Council ballots in them and not the Leadership ballot, Some would have been the other way around.

What is a greater concern is that the number of envelopes reported as being received by the VEC on the Friday was 66432 some 1361 less Council Ballots and 1436 less Leadership ballots. Where did these ballots go?    They could have been ballot papers that were rejected, did not have a signature or no ballot papers were inside the returned envelope.  We just do not know, the VEC failed to provided a reconciliation report as required prior to running the count program.

There are a number of possible errors and faults that can occur with a computer count.  The wrong data can be transcribed and entered into the computers database, as we saw in Western and Northern Metro seats during the 2006 State Election. Votes could be removed from the count or even double counted.  Normally ballots are presorted, prior to counting, into primary votes.  This allows scrutineers to obtain an early primary figure which in turn is then used as a control/check digit to determine if any votes have been left out or mis-recorded.  The Victorian Local Government Act  (Sch 3 cl 11B) requires that votes be sorted into parcels based on the primary vote.  

The VEC sought to cut corners by skipping this very important step in the process of counting the vote and in doing so prevented scrutineers from being able to properly monitor the data-entry and counting process. They were left blind, bamboozled by the claims that the use of computers in the counting of votes was accurate,  But as we know this is not true – like that of a Magic Trick the audience can be readily deceived and distracted.

For the sack of saving $300 to $400 to have staff presort the Council below the line ballot papers into primary votes the VEC undermined and prevented the proper scrutiny of the ballot. The presorting of ballot papers could have been undertaken in parallel with the opening of and the sorting of ballot papers into above-the-line and below-the-line votes. There were only 5500 below-the-line votes – not an onerous task by any stretch..

The conduct of the election count was made worst by the VEC refusing to provide final copies of the computer data-file at the conclusion of the count. Scrutineers were again denied access to crucial information.  Review of the count sheet shows that the results of the election were within 350 votes which could have changed the election outcome.  A wrong figure punched into the computer a 7285 instead of 7825 is all that it would take to produce a different result and no one would know.
The VEC’s administrative processes are not good, they certainly do not meet the high professional standard that is employed by the Australian Electoral Commission. There is no independent oversight or review.  The VEC has not been vetted or certified to meet ISO 2000 quality control standards.  It is an organisation that is left wanting with little desire.  
$35 Million Misspent

The VEC spent over $35 Million Dollars developing software (Most of which was outsourced to India). It is still unclear who owns the intellectual property rights for the VEC’s election software?  

What we do know is that design of software that developed does not meet current IT industry standards. 
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is by far the better and more professional body. 

Given that the AEC already has in place computer systems and administrative procedures used to conduct elections we have to wonder what is it that Victorian Taxpayers get for their investment. 

Why do we have two public electoral authorities with duplicated resources  when we could have just one professional organisation.  

It is up to our parliamentarians (The Electoral matters Committee) to sort this mess out.  They have to act to restore confidence and integrity, put an end to excessive waste, secrecy and incompetence that engulf the Victorian Electoral Commission.  
The first step would be to subject the VEC to independent review by the office of the State Ombudsman and Auditor General.