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Election Results Not Good Enough

Filed under Editorial

December 4, 2017

by Dafyd Martindale

Queensland went to the polls on Saturday, November 25 to elect its next State Government.

But as of today – December 4 – we still don’t really know who will be governing us for the next three years.

While the return of the Palaszczuk Government seems the most likely outcome, the need to count postal and absentee votes appears set to delay a definitive answer until later this week, or possibly next week.

And in 2017, I think this sort of delay is inexcusable.

Half a century ago when I was in school, I often used a pencil to fill in exam cards that went off to be machine-read somewhere in the bowels of the Department Of Education.

Exam results were delivered pretty well overnight using this system.

And for decades, Australia Post has used machine-reading of envelopes to sort the nation’s mail for delivery.

So why is the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) not investigating similar technologies to help us get election results faster?

The shambolic approach the ECQ currently uses was starkly demonstrated in the March Council elections, when South Burnett voters had to wait more than a fortnight to get their votes counted … and so did every other Council in Queensland.

The delays were so catastrophic the State Government ordered an independent review of the ECQ’s handling of that particular poll.

In a damning report issued three months later, the review found the ECQ was a secretive, authoritarian organisation with significant management, technological and communication problems and a culture of insecurity, avoidance and occasional nepotism – things the ECQ promised they’d fix.

But here we are, five months further down the track, and our State Government remains in caretaker mode while the ECQ painstakingly counts the ballots and slowly … oh, so slowly … releases the data.

Surely, in an age when computing power is cheap and abundant, we can use all manner of machine-reading systems to get an election result on voting night or the day after?

And just as surely, with elections consuming more and more public resources as time goes by, a swap to automated vote counting could generate some significant cost savings as well?

One way or another, the ECQ needs to do better.

And if they’re incapable of doing so themselves, then helping them is a task the incoming State Government should seriously look at.

Footnote: The results of the 2017 Queensland state election were finally announced on Friday, December 9 almost a fortnight after the ballot, and the new Government will be sworn in on Tuesday, December 12.

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