I haven’t had any time to post over the last fortnight, being too busy preparing websites and computer systems for the upcoming ACT and Queensland elections.
Let me give a brazen plug for the just published websites for both elections, and a bit of background on the next five weeks for keen election watchers.
The ACT election is three weeks away on 17 October. My website is up and running at the ABC elections site. The Preview page will get more updates over the next week. With the close of nominations I’ve added all the candidates including profiles and pictures where I can find them.
As I explain in my ACT preview, election night will be like no election I’ve worked on before. The ACT uses electronic pre-poll voting, and 32.5% of votes were taken electronically in 2016. As a Covid-19 measure, the ACT Electoral Commission has been encouraging postal and pre-poll voting, and greatly increased the number of pre-poll centres.
The Commission estimates 80% of votes will be cast before election day, most electronically. The Commission is aiming to deliver the tallies for all electronic votes within half an hour of poll close at 6pm on 17 October. After that, the Commission will release its first provisional distribution of preferences, provisionally electing five members in each of the five electorates.
The ACT uses the Hare-Clark electoral system, usually a great starting point for intricate discussions of preference flows. A provisional preference distribution on an 80% count will leave little room for doubt on the final result. The addition of paper ballots might flip one or two close contests, but 17 October will produce a clearer outcome than the 15 previous Hare-Clark elections I’ve worked on, eight in Tasmania and seven in the ACT.
I hope it all works. The first time the ACT used electronic voting, the ABC was promised all electronic counts within five minutes of the close of polls. My advice was never trust a new computer system and start the coverage at 6:30, but the Executive Produce went for a 6pm start.
There was no problem with electronic voting, but something went wrong with copying the ballot paper data files to the computer with the counting software. Results didn’t arrive until 7:15. On our panel that night was Labor’s Bob McMullan, who commented to me afterwards that he had never spent so long talking about nothing.
The ABC’s coverage will start that night at 5:30 to give us time to set up what is about to happen. The hour from close of polls at 6pm promises to be hard core number porn as we report the rapid count, then wade through the distribution of preferences to work out who has won and lost. It could all be wrapped up by 8pm.
Hopefully we get a chance to report the numbers on the New Zealand election, held the same day across the Tasman. Counting starts at 5pm Australian Eastern time, and the first hour of the NZ election is taken up with the reporting of the Advance vote, counted before the close of polls but not entered into computer systems until afterwards. More than half of all votes will be cast Advance in 2020. Their reporting will clash with the rush of results in the ACT, so we will see how much we can report.
The Queensland Election
Two weeks later on 31 October, Queensland goes to the polls. You can find links to all the electorates at my ABC election guide. Sorry no Preview page yet. It was delayed by having to get the ACT page up after the close of nominations on Thursday. I hope to get the Queensland preview page up next week, and add more information on candidates to the electorate pages.
As in the ACT, the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) is actively encouraging pre-poll and postal voting. The ECQ is promising to count postals and pre-polls on election night, but how many get counted will depend on the numbers.
The last two Queensland elections have been very close contests, and the success of Katter’s Australian Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in North Queensland mean there are enough cross benchers to make a hung parliament possible. Then there is the return of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Can another big advertising spend damage the Palaszczuk government as badly as it destroyed Bill Shorten’s tilt for the Prime Ministership in 2019? And can the Greens win any more seats in Brisbane?
All this while debate continues on whether Queensland should continue with its closed borders to keep Covid-19 out. The consensus down south seems to be open the borders, but Queenslanders don’t like ‘Mexicans’ telling them what to do. Will southern demands to open the borders create the same sort of backlash as campaigns from down south to stop the Adani mine had in Queensland at the last Federal election?
This will be my 12th Queensland election, but the first where I won’t be Brisbane. Alas, the only way I could be in Brisbane for the election required me to spend a week before and after the ACT election living in a Canberra hotel before flying to Brisbane. Instead I’ll be joining by video wall from Sydney.
Hopefully Queensland will be decided before the following Wednesday (Tuesday night US time) when the US Presidential result will unfold. I will have a small involvement in the ABC’s US election coverage, but there are plenty of people with more knowledge of US politics than me. And they won’t be as sleep deprived as I may be after the Queensland election.
An added complexity of the Queensland election coverage is the ABC will be doing a parallel run of its new election computer system. Another reason why I’m not too involved with the US election. The new system will allow a future upgrade of internet results, and cope better with changes in technology since the current system was written a decade ago. This system is also better documented, which gives me a better chance of retiring in a few years.