Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missing Tally. VEC under review for missing data

The VEC has failed to provide scrutineers and candidates with a list of the number of ballot papers issued for each polling place/voting centre.

Amidst concern that ballot papers may have gone missing or worst still added into the count.  Each polling place is required to fill in a declaration return which out lines the number of printed ballot papers they had issued and the number of ballot papers returned. In theory the number of ballot papers issued and the number returned should match.  Of course come ballot papers do go missing but this should be recorded on each polling place. 

The number of ballot papers issued and returned for the lower house should also match the upper-house as each voter is entitled to two votes.

The VEC should be collecting and collating the information this information which should have been available on the Sunday following the close of the polls.  The only unknown quantity is the number of ballot papers that are in the post. (Had the VEC implemented a barcode tacking system available by Australia Post they should also know the number of postal votes)

In the past a scrutineer would have the right to inspect the voting centre return declaration.

In 2006 the VEC failed and refused to make this information available.  A copy of the polling place returns requested under FOI was not provided by Steve Tully, Victorian Chief Electoral Officer.

In Western Metropolitan, 2006 the preliminary count showed labor winning the election and a recount was requested.  The recount changed the results of the election with the Greens winning a seat at the expense of Labor's fourth seat.  One issue that was of considerable concern in the recount was that the second count recorded over 500 less ballot paperswere  then was recorded in the primary count.  That's 500 ballot papers that were data-entered in wrongly or had gone missing between the two counts. No satisfactory detailed explanation as to where the error had occurred was provided by Steve Tully.

Without access to the tabulated voting centre returns it was impossible to ascertain independently how many ballot papers had been issued and how many returned.

The VEC had been requested to provide a copy of the below the line preference data file for both counts (Count A and Count B) Steve Tully refused to make this data available during and immediately following the count. Copies of the below-the-line preference-data-files were only made available for Count B pursuant to  an FOI application.  The VEC failed to provide a copy of the data-file recorded for the primary Count B.

Similar problems existed with the 2010 Victorian Senate election, where the AEC refused to provide copies of the below the line preference-data-file  to scrutineers.  Without access to this data it is impossible for scrutineers to verify the validity and correctness of the data-entry process.  The AEC legal officer, Paul Parani, in what was considered an abuse of process, tried to solicit payment of an FOI fee from scutineers in order to gain access to the data-file. Parani tried to claim that the data was only subject to an FOI application.  This was not true.  This information is a public document and goes to the heart of Australia's electoral process and the need to ensure that the conduct and counting of the election is open and transparent.  In not providing this data the electoral process itself is brought into question and disrepute.

There is no legal issue that prevents the publication of of this data. In fact then AEC published the below the line preference data files  soon after the declaration of the poll. And in the case of the City of Melbourne election copies of the data files was progressively provided to scrutineers through out the data-entry process

So the question is "why is this data not being made available and what does the Chief Electoral Commision have to hide that he refuses to provide copies of the information requested?"

In the review of the 2006 State election the Victorian Parliament requested that the VEC provide copies of the below-the-line preference data-files and a copy of the polling place return summary. Mr Steve Tully in his evidence given to the Parliament stated that the data for Count A had been deleted and the data overwritten.  No back up copies were made and as such he was unable to provide a copy of the data requested.  This in spite the requirement of the electoral act that all documents pertaining to the conduct of the election had to be preserved. The fact that the VEC did not make backup copies of the data raised a number of additional questions as to the professionalism and quality of the system put in place.  It costs millions of dollars to collate this information and the VEC had no disaster recovery backup process in place.

In 2010 were are seeing the same mistakes being made. The VEC has failed to ensure that the electoral process is open and transparent.

The requirement for an open, transparent and honest election is not too much to ask for. In fact it is expected.

The fact that the VEC is unable to indicate how many ballot papers have been issued and how many returned to date, two weeks after the election, is alarming. The fact that the commission is once again refusing to make available copies of the below-the-line preference-data-files  to scrutineers for a second state election in a row brings the electronic counting procedures and tghe VEC into disreputel. It undermines public confidence in our electoral system.

If Steve Tully can not provide copies of the number of ballot papers issued and returned along with copies of the below-the-line preference-data-files to scrutineers then he should be sacked.

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