A winning result for electionz.com

An all-new customised scanning and processing system implemented by ABBYY for the 2019 Local Government Elections in New Zealand passed the ultimate test when a bid for an election recount was declined by the Wellington District Court.

Wellington's former mayor Justin Lester had applied for a recount after a final count showed he had lost to Mayor Andy Foster by just 62 votes. However, the application was denied after the District Court Judge determined the system was very robust.

Steve Kilpatrick, Managing Director of Election Management company electionz.com said, “We had a number of close results. In the case of the Wellington Mayor election the Council asked us to outline all the processes, controls, checks and balances we had in place and the Judge determined he could see no reasonable ground to declare the result was wrong.”

The task of running Local Government elections in NZ is the responsibility of the individual authorities, although most outsource the task of printing and mailing ballot papers and counting the votes. Around 2/3 engage New Zealand Election Management company electionz.com which also runs about 200 elections per year for company boards among others, many of which have an online voting component.

Triennial NZ Local Government elections, however, are strictly postal ballot only (there is no online voting allowed yet). Council voting papers are also complicated by the need to include an average of five elections on each ballot paper and provide different methods of sequencing of candidates (alphabetic, pseudo-random and random).

Adding to the complexity, there are two different voting methods employed for voting: First Past the Post (FPP, where voters use ticks or crosses to indicate their votes) and Single Transferable Vote (STV, where voters use numbers to indicate their preference for candidates by writing a 1 beside their most preferred candidate, a 2 beside their second most preferred candidate, a 3 beside their third most preferred candidate, etc.).

More than 1.2 million voter packs were mailed out by electionz.com with up to 550 different formats of the ballot papers which can vary based on the individual council, district or even street or household.

The ballot papers were scanned by a fleet of seven Kodak i4200 high-volume scanners which can handle up to 100,000 pages per day 

“The FlexiCapture solution provided by ABBYY delivered very accurate results whether for marks or numbers,” said Kilpatrick.

“It also provided much smoother flow for data as it moved through the steps from capture to OCR, data repair and finally into our electoral management system where the votes get collated. This even extended to driving the scanners as we used ABBYY ScanStation for that.

“We estimated we would have around 630,000 voting papers returned, about 40% as local government voting is not compulsory. We ended up getting 675,000 sent back and we got through those faster than expected. Our processing targets were exceeded by the ABBYY software which was a nice outcome to have.

“We estimated our peak day would be around 60,000 voting papers. It turned out to be 94,000, and while it was a long day for some of the staff, we got through it.

“This project had a life of three weeks. We had a team of 40 operators who are temporary staff working with the ABBYY software for the first time so they needed to be proficient quickly. Likewise, we had a team of 7 scanner operators for our Kodak i4200 high-volume scanners.”

“It was important that FlexiCapture was simple to pick up and use and that was certainly the case. In an atmosphere where the checks and balances are tight, we needed a system that people can comprehend and know what they’re doing very quickly.”

ABBYY also provided a flexible licensing model that is based on the volume of work being processed, rather than the number of licensed users, so costs will reduce for electionz.com after completing high-capacity workloads, such as the Local Government elections.