The Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC’s) handling of the nation’s 2016 election was deeply flawed, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found. The auditor’s investigation was kicked off after the 2016 double-dissolution election, which introduced at short notice optional preferential voting for Australia’s Senate. The AEC anticipated a complex count, and in March 2016 had begun work on a system to automate the Senate count, but its timetable was foreshortened by the early election. That set off a chain of events that resulted in wasted money and security failures, the auditor has found.
Perhaps the most damning finding in the ANAO report is that the AEC handed AU$27 million to Fuji-Xerox to automate the Senate count, but needed to hand-count the papers anyway manually cross-check papers, showing images to operators on screen, who then keyed in vote data (a decision which contributed AU$6.6 million to the cost of the system).
Subsequent to that process, the system lacked any way to correct errors the operators might have made.
The AEC justified the double-count as a way to “improve integrity” of the ballot paper data. “Any mismatches between the human’s and the technology’s interpretation were investigated and resolved,” the report states, but: “The AEC does not know the number or nature of mismatches to determine if this was a cost-effective risk treatment”.