The operating model for this by-election includes social distancing and hygiene measures implemented during the count on by-election night and at the by-election count centre in the days afterwards. These measures, which must be enacted to protect the community, will mean the counting of votes will take longer.
The expected increase in postal and pre-poll votes cast will also impact the speed of the count, noting the legislative requirement to wait 13 days after by-election day for the return of postal votes. As a result, it is likely to take longer to formally declare a final result in this by-election compared with previous federal by-elections but, as per our normal practice, the AEC will do everything possible to provide an indicative result on polling night.
Further information about COVID-19 safety measures in place during the counting of votes is available in the Eden-Monaro by-election service plan.
Immediately after the polling place doors close, polling officials open and empty the House of Representatives ballot boxes. The green ballot papers are unfolded and all the number '1' votes (first preferences) are put into separate piles for each candidate and counted. Informal ballot papers are counted separately (ballot papers that are not completed correctly are referred to as informal ballot papers).
The first preference results for each candidate are phoned through to the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO), along with the number of informal ballot papers. The figures are then data entered and transmitted to the Tally Room on the AEC website and provided to media outlets through a media feed system. Constant updates occur over election night through the Tally Room every time new information is entered.
Following the first preference count, polling officials will conduct an indicative two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count – a distribution of ballot papers to two selected candidates. This result is then phoned through to the DRO.
The two selected candidates are those expected to receive the most first preference votes. The TCP count is conducted to give an early indication of who is most likely to win each seat, as this is not always clear from first preferences. The Tally Room also provides TCP information as soon as it is entered into the AEC system.
It is anticipated that the majority of pre-poll votes cast will be counted on by-election night.
In addition, some postal votes will be counted on by-election night. The quantity of postal votes counted on by-election night depends on a number of logistical arrangements, including how many postal votes are cast in total and what proportion of those votes are received by the AEC in time to be included in the by-election night count.
The scrutiny of declaration votes is done in two stages:
The preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes may begin once envelopes are received. However, no envelopes are opened or any votes counted until after the polls close on election day. A declaration vote is accepted for further scrutiny if it meets certain requirements. The requirements are:
In addition, a postal vote must have been recorded prior to the polls closing. That is, before 6pm on election day.
The initial vote counting conducted on by-election night will be followed by a 'fresh scrutiny' of ballot papers. This will commence in the week following by-election day in the AEC’s central counting centre.
The DRO counts all ordinary votes received from every polling place in their division. Some House of Representatives ballot papers that were treated as informal on by-election night may be admitted to the count by the DRO, and similarly ballot papers previously regarded as formal may be reclassified as informal. Corrected count figures will result in a change to the figures displayed on the Tally Room on the AEC website.
A count of the pre-poll votes not counted on by-election night will also commence in the week following by-election day. Fresh scrutiny of all pre-poll votes will also occur.
The validation, count and fresh scrutiny of postal votes will continue in the weeks following by-election, in batches, as they are received. The AEC must wait 13 days after by-election day for the return of postal votes.
Once the votes are counted and a successful candidate has been determined there will be a public declaration of the result. The AEC can only legally declare the result once the margin between the top two candidates is greater than the number of postal votes yet to be received/counted.