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Still room for improvement at the Australian Electoral Commission

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Still room for improvement at the Australian Electoral


Posted 24/11/2014 by Philip Hamilton

By Dude7248 (Own workown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In its inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election, the Joint Standing Committee on

Electoral Matters (JSCEM) heard that issues raised by the Keelty inquiry into the WA Senate

election were similar to some matters that had been identified by the Auditor-General back

in 2010.

In that context, the JSCEM wrote to the Auditor-General requesting that he examine the

AEC’s implementation of recommendations he had made in 2010 about the AEC's

preparation for and conduct of the 2007 Federal Election.

The Auditor-General decided that this follow-up would be conducted through three related

performance audits of: physical security of completed ballot papers; workforce planning, the

selection of premises, and further aspects of ballot paper security; and the accuracy and

completeness of the electoral roll.

In the first follow-up audit, tabled in May 2014, the Auditor-General concluded that there

needed to be ‘stronger ownership of the implementation of agreed ANAO recommendations

within the AEC,’ and emphasised the importance of:

…. assurance that the action taken in response to agreed recommendations

effectively addresses the matters that lead to recommendations being made ...

The second follow-up audit, tabled on 5 November 2014, assessed the AEC’s

implementation of recommendations relating to:

• a more strategic approach to election workforce planning, with a particular focus on the

selection, recruitment, training and performance evaluation of election officials;

• the suitability and accessibility of polling booths and fresh scrutiny premises; and

• the transport and storage of completed ballot papers, in respect to matters not fully

addressed in the first follow-up audit; specifically, compliance with new policies and

procedures introduced to address the Keelty report recommendations for the WA Senate

election 2014.

The Auditor-General noted that, by March 2012, the AEC had informed its audit committee

that implementation of each recommendation from 2010 had been completed. However,

notwithstanding improvement in some areas (in particular, more timely recruitment of

election officials, and improved approaches to their training), the Auditor-General found


• there was little change evident between the 2007 and 2013 elections in how the AEC

selects premises for voting and vote counting purposes;

• the AEC has yet to develop a workforce plan to assist with addressing the challenges

associated with retaining, recruiting and training a large number of temporary election

officials, and responding to continuing high levels of temporary staff turnover between


• records of the recruitment of polling place staff for the 2013 election demonstrate that

34 per cent of people appointed to those roles had not been assessed as to their


• it is relatively common for people employed as election officials to not complete some or

all of the assigned training; and

• performance assessment ratings have not been recorded for all election officials at either

the 2010 or 2013 elections (compliance with this requirement was 87 per cent and 80

per cent respectively).

On the way forward for the AEC, the Auditor-General observed that:

… although lacking rigour in certain respects, the arrangements adopted to

monitor implementation of interim measures to respond to the Keelty report, and

assess their effectiveness, demonstrate a greater commitment to organisational

learning and improvement than has previously been evident.

However, the Auditor-General also noted that ‘the challenge for the AEC is to sustain and

build on this greater commitment … ‘.

The AEC’s commitment to organisational learning and improvement is likely to be under

scrutiny again in the Auditor-General’s third follow-up audit, which has been included as a

potential audit in the ANAO’s 2014-15 forward work program.

In addition, the Auditor-General has foreshadowed a performance audit of the AEC after the

next Federal Election. We could expect the post-Election audit to examine the AEC’s

response to the Auditor-General’s observation that, notwithstanding a continuing trend

towards early voting rather than voting on election Saturday, the number of static polling

place premises has remained largely unchanged across the last four elections. The Auditor-General estimates that abolishing polling places expected to receive relatively few votes, and

combining polling places located relatively close together into newer, larger premises, could

result in the AEC recruiting and training 4,600 fewer polling place staff.

Many of the above issues were canvassed again at the JSCEM on 12 November 2014, when

the Auditor-General and colleagues returned to give more evidence to the inquiry into the

conduct of the 2013 Federal Election.

And in a further development arising from the inquiry, the JCSEM has published An

assessment of electronic voting options.


• Australian Electoral Commission

• election results

• elections

• voting