NEWS

ANALYSIS: Studying Other Elections

Ni Sa Bula The Fijian Elections Office was fortunate to have been invited to the first ever Queensland Elections Visitor Programme through the PIANZEA Network. The Queensland Election was held
14 Feb 2015 14:12
ANALYSIS: Studying Other Elections
One of the 1500 computers kitted with a printer and a barcode scanner which are part of the ECL Kit. The ECL kit is fitted with an SD card that recorded date as well as the hard disk in the laptop.

Ni Sa Bula

The Fijian Elections Office was fortunate to have been invited to the first ever Queensland Elections Visitor Programme through the PIANZEA Network.

The Queensland Election was held on January 31, 2015 and the visitor program was attended by several state electoral officers from within Australia, some political party invitees and also by the Australian Electoral Commission. We were hosted by Walter Van der Merwe, the Electoral Commissioner at the Electoral Commission of Queensland [ECQ] (akin to the Supervisor of Elections position in FEO except that Mr. van der  Merwe  is responsible for the Queensland State elections).

This write-up is a discussion on the non-political aspects of the election, focused on the Electronic Certified List that was used for the first time in Queensland.

The electoral system in Australia is different from that of Fiji. The country is divided into States. The Government of Australia (Federal Government) is elected through national elections referred to as Federal Elections that occur every three years.

Aside from the Federal Government, each state has its own government and hence separate elections to elect the members of the State Parliament.  In Queensland, the head of the state Parliament is known as the Premier. Voting is compulsory in Australia and a fine applies to those who fail to vote!

The date for the Queensland Election was announced in early January 2015  to be held on January 31, 2015. Approximately three million voters were expected to cast their votes on the day or in Early Voting centres operating one week before the election. Voters could also apply for a postal ballot.

For the first time in Queensland, voters were required to produce proof of identification when they attended to vote. The ECQ had earlier sent a letter to every voter that contained voter identification information. Other forms of ID were also accepted.

At the bottom right of the letter, the ECQ cleverly included a ‘barcode’ specific to that voter only. The identification letter was hugely popular and from speaking with the Polling Place Supervisors, I estimate that 90 per cent of the voters in polling places I visited brought their identification letters when they came for voting. This was the first time in Australia, voters were required to produce some identification.

The ECQ rolled out approximately 1500 computers kitted with a printer and a barcode scanner [ECL Kits]. These computers were all equipped with the voter roll. The ECL Kits were also connected to the AEC database and each ECL Kit regularly updated the database. As a safety backup, each ECL kit was fitted with an SD card that recorded the data as well as the hard disk in the laptop.

As a backup, polling places also kept printed voter lists.

When a voter came to a polling station and presented the letter (or in some cases, they would just cut out and produce the portion of the letter that had the barcode), the polling staff would simply scan the barcode and the relevant details of the voter would appear on the screen.

The polling staff would ask the voter some verification questions and on being satisfied with the details verified, the relevant ballot paper would be printed directly from the printer. The Polling Staff would then cross off the barcode on the identification letter to indicate that the person has voted.

At the same time, the person will be recorded in the system as having voted. I observed that the time it took the ballot issuer from between 20 to 50 seconds to issue a ballot! The ECQ advises that in some polling places, it took up to 10 seconds to issue a ballot paper.

This considerably reduced the queue  and waiting period.

In Australia, a person can vote at any polling station regardless of the constituency they are to vote in. This meant that all polling places kept ballot papers from every constituency in the election.

A person would have to do a declaration vote if they were in a different constituency. These votes were not counted on the night, but sent over to the relevant constituency in the days following the election to be counted. (In Australia, the results of the primary count are released on the night of the election followed by a formal count in the days after the Election until votes from all the polling places are received.  Ten (10) days’ time is allowed for postal votes to come in and be counted.

The person would also be recorded as having voted following the receipt of the declaration vote from the polling place where the vote was originally received.

However, the introduction of ECL Kits now allows the person to cast an ordinary vote from his/ her constituency and at the same time, the system records the voter as having voted. This significantly reduces the post-election verification of non-voters and the subsequent fines they are to get.

The ECL Kit was very useful in the early voting centres as voters from any constituency were able to cast their votes without having to do a declaration.

The use of ECL Kit was a win-win situation, both for ECQ and the Voter. Electronically certified voter lists will allow ECQ to identify non-voters without having to spend resources on scanning the printed lists for the stations that had ECL Kits, while voters were spared the long wait in the queues.

Here in Fiji, the FEO will be looking at working on reducing the time taken to issue a ballot to the voter. Experience from the 2014 General Election shows a surge in the turnout especially in the morning and the resulting long lines.

The FEO will be closely studying the ECL Kits and their functionality as  a possible solution for Fiji based on our Fiji’s EVR card system keeping in mind the availability of network, electricity and the devil associated with all technology –Cost!

The FEO is honoured to have been part of the Visitor Programme run by the ECQ and I sincerely thank Mr van  der  Merwe  for their kind hospitality. I also acknowledge Jiv Sekhon from PIANZEA for funding and organising Sala’s and my attendance.

Vinaka

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