eVoting off the agenda for AEC

Voting for the Australian Senate will remain a pencil and paper process for some years to come, according to a call for tender just issued by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

A tender for the Digitisation of Senate Ballot Papers for the 2027/2028 federal election estimates that 17.2 million will need to be scanned and captured. This figure closely matches the size of the Australian electoral roll as listed on the AEC Web site (17,446,467).

FUJIFILM Data Management Solutions has been the AEC’s data capture provider since 2016 and will complete data capture from Senate ballot papers for the next federal election in 2024/2025 after the AEC exercised an option on the existing work order.

Senate ballot papers are scanned and OCR is used to capture voter preferences. Once captured, these preferences are then verified by a human operator.

However, votes in the lower house are still counted manually.

“The AEC have never conducted data capture for House of Representatives ballot papers,” said a spokesperson.

One area where the AEC has been moving towards digital processes is in the capture of electronic certified lists (ECL) that record the identities of voters that show up to vote.

These have traditionally been paper lists that are marked off with pencil by polling booth officers and subsequently scanned and OCRd.

For the 2022 Federal Election more than 5 million voters were marked off on ECLs, including the growing number casting prepoll votes ahead of election day.

Paper certified lists were not deployed to pre-poll voting centres or mobile teams for the 2022 federal election, and voters were marked off using an electronic certified list at those locations.

The AEC deployed 5,800 electronic certified lists (ECLs) for the 2022 federal election, an increase compared with the 2019 federal election, where more than 4500 ECLs and more than 2700 printers were deployed.

There were 7,587 polling day and pre-poll voting locations across Australia for the 2022 election, with 657 polling places and mobile teams used Electronic Certified Lists (ECLs).

For the 2024/25 federal election the AEC expects to deploy up to 10,000 ECLs.

In 2020 the AEC issued a request for information investigating the possibility of operating its electronic certified list (ECL) system at “100 percent of polling places” in the future.

An AEC spokesperson said no decision has been made yet whether to proceed with this option.

“The AEC is currently looking at innovative solutions with the capability to scale up significantly beyond 2024/25. Given the scale of a federal election, this is a significant task and the steps taken to this point are iterative advancements.“