For more than 95 percent of Australians, the daunting task of voting below the line in a federal senate election is too much to ask, especially for a Saturday morning. So it will come as no surprise that during the upcoming WA senate recount, as with every senate tally since 2001, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will call upon some electronic assistance to calculate the complex system of preferences and trickle-down the redistributions that decide the seating pattern in the nation’s upper house. While Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam waits to hear whether he has won back his seat, electoral officials will be feeding ballot data into a limited network of computers running its EasyCount tally system. “The system takes the entered information for each of the votes cast in a Senate election, performs the distribution of preferences, and indicates which candidates have been elected,” an AEC spokesman explained to iTnews.
As soon as polls close, the results of formal above-the-line ballot papers are entered into the system alongside the group voting tickets that the votes represent.
A single, stand-alone PC is used to collect the entered information to “prevent hacking” according to a parliamentary submission made by the AEC early on in the system’s life.
A two-pronged process is then required to calculate and double check ballots filled in below the line.
In 2013 the number of boxes to be numbered on these complex ballots ballooned out to more than 100 in some states.
As a result of this added layer of complexity, two AEC data entry operators enter the same ballot data into the system separately, so their counts can be compared to verify that data entry discrepancies are not allowed to influence the final outcome.