The counting of votes, or 'scrutiny' begins in polling places as soon as the poll closes at 6pm on polling day. Only ordinary votes that are cast at a polling place are counted on election night. Declaration votes are not counted on election night.
When the House of Representatives election and the Senate election are held in conjunction, the House of Representatives ballot papers are scrutinised before the Senate ballot papers. If a referendum is held in conjunction with an election, the referendum ballot papers are scrutinised after those of the election.
Polling officials are required to complete four main tasks at the close of polls. They are required to:
The first preference results are tabulated and phoned through to the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO), along with the number of informal votes.
Polling officials then conduct a TCP count (House of Representatives), or interim distribution of preferences, between the two leading candidates on polling night to give an indication of the likely outcome of the poll in that division on election night.
For further information and an example, see How the House of Representative votes are counted.
Next, the first preference votes on the Senate ballot papers – above and below the line – are counted, phoned through to the DRO and entered into the Election Night System.
For further information and an example, see How the Senate votes are counted.
The DRO enters the results for each polling place into the AEC's national computerised Election Night System. These results are transmitted to the National Tally Room (NTR) in Canberra where they are placed on the National Tally Board and are electronically fed to the media. The results are also available from a virtual tally room on the AEC website.
Some 84% of the total vote is counted on election night. The remaining 12% of the votes are made up of declaration votes. These cannot be counted until after election day.
Declaration envelopes containing absent, pre-poll, postal and provisional votes are checked by divisional staff after polling day before they are opened and admitted into the count. Postal votes can be received up to 13 days after election day, but these votes must have been posted on or before election day.
All the ballot material is delivered to the divisional offices who then undertake a fresh scrutiny of all the ballot papers.
A distribution of preferences takes place in every division, even where a candidate already has a majority of first preference votes. The result of this full distribution of first preferences is used to calculate the two party preferred statistics for division that have the ALP and Coalition as the final two candidates.
In division that do not have the ALP and Coalition as the final two candidates, a Scrutiny for Information is conducted to determine the two party preferred result. A Scrutiny for Information, in such cases, is a notional distribution of preferences to find the result of preference flows to the ALP and Coalition candidates.