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Local election processing, audit and counting

November 05, 2004

Local election processing, audit and counting complete

All processing, counting and auditing of District Health Board (DHB), Council and Licensing Trust election results for the 2004 local government elections is now complete.

Audited results for the Waikato and Otago DHBs were declared today by Electoral Officers. All other results had been declared previously.

Background

Results were delayed as a result of a problem in the computer process that transformed digital images of voting papers into computer digital form.

The problem affected votes being processed by only one company and a sub-contractor. When the problem was identified, the sub-contractor and local authorities called in auditors (KPMG and the Office of the Auditor-General respectively) to provide assurance that the process used was able to produce full and complete results.

It is unusual and probably unique for votes to be subject to audit prior to counting in New Zealand. An “auditable environment” was developed, with a demonstrable track for all votes. This allowed checking for audit purposes. It was then necessary to prove for audit purposes that the system effectively processed the votes. Results were then put through the system, reconciled, audited, counted and sent to Electoral Officers for declaration. This was done as rapidly as the system and the audit process allowed. At no stage were batches of votes “lost”. They were always identifiable. The challenge was to prove that they had been effectively transformed into data for counting to provide the level of assurance required by local authorities and Electoral Officers.

The problem affected STV votes, but was clearly not associated with STV itself, because STV votes were successfully processed, counted and declared in other elections using other processing operations. The STV calculator, which produced results after processing, worked effectively in every case, producing results in between five and 45 seconds. This calculator was developed for the Department of Internal Affairs by CGNZ Limited and was independently audited and then certified under law. A separate back-up calculator, available should the main calculator fail, was not needed.

STV was used for all DHB and 10 council elections this year. The STV system used, called New Zealand STV, depends on computer counting for its effectiveness. The use of computer counting eliminates some of the known problems with other forms of STV, such as results being influenced by the order in which votes are counted.

In addition to the development of the calculator, the Department of Internal Affairs ran a publicity campaign to tell voters how to cast an STV vote. The number of informal ballots for Council STV elections was very low, indicating that very few voters had any difficulty casting an STV ballot in those elections. The number of informal votes in DHB elections was higher. Research into the reasons behind this and the overall effectiveness of the campaign is underway.

The conduct of local elections is a long-standing role and responsibility of local government. A single electoral roll is used for both local and national elections.

The Justice and Electoral Committee of Parliament has resolved to initiate an inquiry into the 2004 local authority elections which will include assessment and analysis of:

the Local Electoral Act 2001 and regulations participation and voter turnout electoral systems voting and counting methods and processes any other relevant matters.

ENDS


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