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Auditor-General Publishes Independent Review Of Counting Errors During The 2023 General Election

A review by the Auditor-General of vote counting errors during the 2023 General Election has found that there is room to strengthen the way that votes are counted and recorded, and how this process is quality assured.

After the official results of the 2023 General Election were released, a journalist queried the Electoral Commission about a result in one electorate. The Electoral Commission investigated and confirmed that there were errors in the official results. It then amended and reissued the official results.

“While the Electoral Commission found that the errors did not change the candidate or party vote outcomes in any electorates, it is essential that the public has trust and confidence in the integrity of the election process and the official election results,” Auditor-General John Ryan says. “I agreed to independently review the counting errors at the request of the Electoral Commission.”

Mistakes happened because some ballots were misplaced, which led to incorrect counting; a ballot box was not counted during the official count; and some people made data entry errors. Quality assurance checks were not well designed, understood, or done consistently across all electorates, and there was no check to confirm that all potential errors that were identified had been resolved. A final quality assurance process that would usually take two days was completed in a few hours, under extreme pressure, on the day the official result was announced.

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Unexpected events also put pressure on staff and counting processes. This pressure arose because over a hundred thousand more people than expected enrolled to vote in the two weeks leading up to the election. There were also more special votes, which take longer to process. The Electoral Commission, as a consequence, did not have enough resources to respond to the increased enrolment and special vote volumes, or to recognise and address associated risks.

The Auditor-General also noted that there was a gap in the Electoral Commission’s risk management, which was more focused on external risks than on the effectiveness of the count process, and quality controls, particularly after election day. This meant that it did not take appropriate steps to manage the risks associated with the vote counting process.

The Electoral Commission has limited flexibility with many aspects of election processes because they are set by legislation and are very manual in nature.

“Despite the expectation of accuracy in the count, a vote count process based on paper ballots and manual counting and data entry is likely to result in errors,” Mr Ryan says. “Improved assurance processes will help, but these too are not infallible when put under time and other pressures.

“Investments in systems and processes to improve accuracy are needed. Until then, our election processes will remain vulnerable to the kinds of human error that occurred in the 2023 election.”

The review makes recommendations aimed at strengthening election count processes. These include improvements to controls, quality assurance, recruitment, training, and risk management.

“Running an election is a significant and complex undertaking. My findings should not be taken as a criticism of any individuals,” says Mr Ryan.

“The Electoral Commission staff we spoke to were committed to running an election with integrity, had worked long hours for extended periods, and were deeply disappointed that the errors occurred.

“The Commission has told me that it is has accepted my recommendations and is working to make improvements.”

© Scoop Media

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