Australia has the slowest election results in the world

Now 5 days after the Australian election the only clarity is that Labour will not be able to form a government and the Liberal coalition (with some independent support) may be able to just cobble together a majority.

It isn’t that electrons move slower in the Southern Hemisphere.  The Australian Electoral Commission just does not use electrons. It isn’t that Australians are sluggish in winter. It isn’t that they still use pigeon post in the bush (for pigeons are a lot faster than the AEC). Or that they still use dak runners. It isn’t that with the compulsory voting used in Australia, that the AEC first identifies all the “criminals” who haven’t voted before beginning the count. It isn’t – as vicious rumour would have it – that the unions insist that all vote counters must be permitted a tea-break for every 100 votes counted. It isn’t that every count has to be done in triplicate. It isn’t that the Australian Parliament does not have a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, but that is a body driven entirely by its fears and is not particularly courageous.

Or that the AEC is  grossly understaffed and has only 3 vote counters who are qualified.

Temporary Australian Electoral Commission workers

But whatever it is, results from a general election in Australia are the slowest in the world. All the seats in Parliament may not be settled for another 2 weeks. The Senate results may not be known till August. The Philippines, Bangladesh, India and even Rwanda are faster.

ABC News: “The fact the country has ground to a halt, as a result of a labour-intensive process that consumes nearly 75,000 people, to arrive at a result that could potentially be delivered in minutes electronically is intensely frustrating,” Dr David Glance, head of University of Western Australia Centre for Software Practice (UWACSP), said.

It is not that there are no suggestions as to how the medieval system used by the AEC could be improved (it is difficult to imagine any action which could make it worse). There are many countries which still use paper ballots but they all include some form of electronic enhancement of the counting process.

Distrust of full electronic voting has seen the nation persist with pencil-and-paper methods primary schools and community halls, though the issue has been considered after every federal election since 2001. In the 2000 US presidential election, punched card machines failed spectacularly after 170,000 votes were rejected as unreadable in parts of Florida. The voting debacle in that state was considered pivotal to the ­victory of George Bush over Democrat candidate Al Gore.

The team say electoral commissions around Australia might now look more favourably on their technology, given the ­agonising delay of several days — or weeks in the case of the Senate — before winners are known.

Rumours are also emerging the Australian Electoral Commission faces irregularities on top of counting a remaining 3 million votes, including 1.5 million postal votes. co-founder Cam ­Sinclair says such problems raise memories of the catastrophic WA Senate election, which was re-run in 2014 after 1370 ballot papers went missing. He says he was a scrutineer watching as 200 volunteers spent three weeks counting a second round of votes, in an antiquated system dating to the late 1800s.

“It’s such a cumbersome process of manual counting and handling large bits of paper,” he says. “That experience solidified my belief that there’s a better way.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters held 20 hearings and reviewed more than 200 submissions before deciding ­Australia should stick to its largely paper-based system.

“Millions of Australians are now holding their breath to hear their nation’s fate, but the results literally move at the speed of paper,” says Mr Newnham. “With our system, you could get a result and a sausage sizzle on the same day.”


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