Saturday, November 22, 2008

VEC's contempt

Bill Lang refuses to ensure that the conduct of the municipal election is open and transparent

The Victorian Electoral Commission is set to repeat some of the mistakes they made in 2006.

Bill Lang, Melbourne City Council’s Returning Officer, has refused calls for the Lord Mayor's election to be counted manually. There is no justification for a computerised data-entry count. A number of candidates in the election have supported the call for the count to be open and transparent.

If the computer count is to proceed then the VEC should presort ballot papers prior to batching them ready for data-entry.

Whilst there is nothing in the legislation that requires a presorting of the ballot, other then the obligation to ensure that the election is open and transparent, there is nothing that prevents the VEC from presorting ballot papers into primary votes, as is the case in Senate elections.

The election of Lord Mayor of Melbourne is expected to be close and the presorting of ballot papers would significantly assist in the orderly scrutiny of the ballot whilst maintaining an open and transparent counting of the ballot.

Without presorting of the ballot it is impossible to effectively scrutinise a computerised data-entry count of the election.

The Victorian State Parliament in its report on the Conduct of the 2006 Victorian State election had recommended that ballot papers be presorted prior to data entry. (See comments below for copy of extract from the Parliamentary Inquiry)

By refusing to initiate a presorting of the ballot papers the VEC has thumbed its nose at the State Parliament demonstrating its level of contempt and inability to self-regulate the conduct of the election in order to maintain an open and transparent electoral process.

A complaint has been forwarded to the Minister, Richard Wynne and the Victorian Parliamentary Electoral Review Committee.

1 comment:

MelbCity said...

Extract of the Victorian Parliament Electoral Matters Committe report on the 2006 election

Effective, timely and transparent scrutiny of elections is a cornerstone of democratic government. In paper based voting systems, transparency is typically managed by having “observers and scrutineers present at different stages of the voting and counting processes”.

Ms Williams [Deputy Electoral Commissioner] suggested the VEC did not “pre-sort the ballot papers into first preferences”. EMC member the Honourable Christine Campbell MP expressed concern that this did not occur:

Ms Campbell—What you were also going to, instead of having as you have described there “a batch” checked, that before the result was keyed into the computer that if, for argument's sake, there were 100 batches of 50 first preference for Liz, then someone had the ability to quickly check randomly a number of those batches to check they were all number 1 Liz.

Ms Williams—No, they are not sorted. They are all mixed. The advantage, we do not
pre-sort the ballot papers into first preferences. We do not do that.

Ms Campbell—I thought you had me on side, but you have me worried again.

The EMC recognises that the batching of ballot papers is a necessary practice during Legislative Council election counts. The EMC therefore supports the VEC continuing to batch ballot papers at future Legislative Council elections.

Nevertheless, the EMC holds the view that current batching procedures could be improved. Specifically, the EMC would like to see the VEC improve verification procedures for batches.

While the EMC is mindful that scrutineers are precluded from physically inspecting or handling batches, the EMC recommends that pre-sorting of ballot papers into batches of first preferences would improve the scrutineering of Legislative Council counts.

Recommendation 9.4:

The Victorian Electoral Commission considers pre-sorting ballot papers into batches of first preferences for Legislative Council counts.


Scrutiny of electronic election counts

The EMC received general comments from stakeholders about scrutiny arrangements during electronic election counts. Anthony van der Craats commented that one potential benefit of a manual counting system is that “scrutineers and individuals involved in the election can physically watch the transfer of ballot papers and have multiple opportunities to observe the allocation of preferences as they move throughout the manual counting cycle. With a computerised counting system a different approach is required”.

In addition, the Australian Greens (Victoria) expressed a view that the count needs to be both transparent and seen to be transparent”.

Alison Clarke, Australian Greens’ (Victoria)arty Co-ordinator, elaborated further:

It is more difficult to scrutinise electronic votes than it is by hand vote, a paper count. Also because of that the perception of transparency can be reduced. We are not 100 per cent convinced that the benefits of electronic voting outweigh the drawbacks, that you lose some transparency, obviously there is some efficiency but whether that trade-off is worthwhile.

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