The scrutiny of all returned Senate ballot papers is conducted at the Central Senate Scrutiny (CSS) in each state or territory. The Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for the state or territory is responsible for the scrutiny of ballot papers at the CSS.
Prior to the 2016 election, fewer than three per cent of Senate ballot papers contained below the line (BTL) votes, requiring preferences to be manually entered. As a result of the legislative changes to voting that took effect before the 2016 election, data entry was needed for all Senate ballot papers – more than 14 million – and it is anticipated this number will rise progressively at future elections due to the natural increase in enrolment due to population growth.
At the CSS, the AEC uses a semi-automated Senate count solution that scans Senate ballot papers and uses optical character recognition technology to capture preferences. Once captured, these preferences are then verified by a human operator. The images of potentially informal ballot papers and those with unusual markings, are visually checked by a different human operator and assessed as formal or informal by AEC staff.
The solution was developed by the AEC in partnership with Fuji Xerox for the 2016 federal election and significantly reduces the human effort, time and cost of capturing voter preferences.
The Senate count is more complex than the count for the House of Representatives and takes longer to complete. This is because it involves the election of multiple members for each State and Territory, which means that candidates must receive a quota or proportion of votes to be elected rather than a simple majority.
In order to determine this quota all Senate ballot papers need to be assessed for formality, so while counting of first preferences begins on election night, the full count cannot be completed until up to five weeks after the election.
Scrutineers are able to monitor the processing of Senate ballot papers at CSS centres in each state and territory capital city.
At the 2019 federal election, to accommodate scrutineers and provide greater visibility of ballot papers in exception queues, larger monitors and more space around workstations will be provided. Candidates are entitled to appoint one scrutineer for each AEC officer involved in the central Senate scrutiny. Fuji Xerox staff are not AEC officers and therefore do not count towards determining the number of scrutineers allowed.
The CSS sites operate after election day and are located at Fuji Xerox premises. While the ballot paper secure work zone is dedicated to scrutiny, other areas of the site unrelated to the scrutiny of the count will be operating. Fuji Xerox requires all visitors to their facilities to adhere to safety requirements.
The below guides provide scrutineers planning to attend CSS centres information about location, processes to follow, and planned hours of operation noting that these may change subject to processing requirements. Contact the AEC office in your state or territory to confirm the hours of operation. All scrutineers attending a CSS site will also be given a scrutineer induction and a site induction.