The counting of votes is known as the scrutiny. The scrutiny commences on election night in each polling place after 6pm when the polling place has closed. Both ordinary ballot papers and pre-poll ballot papers completed by voters within their division are counted on election night. The scrutiny is usually observed by scrutineers nominated by the candidates.
When a House of Representatives election and a Senate election are held on the same day, the House of Representatives ballot papers are counted first. If a referendum is also held on the same day, the referendum ballot papers are counted after those of the election.
Polling officials are required to complete four main tasks after the polling places have closed. They are required to:
The first preference results for House of Representatives ballot papers are tabulated and phoned through to the Divisional Returning Officer, along with the number of informal votes. The Divisional Returning Officer enters the results for each polling place into the AEC's national computerised election management system. These results are electronically fed to the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website, directly to some media and transmitted to the National Tally Room in Canberra where they are placed on the National Tally Board.
Polling officials then conduct an indicative distribution of preferences (a two-candidate-preferred count for the House of Representatives) between the two previously identified leading candidates to give an indication of the likely outcome of the poll in that division.
The first preference votes on the Senate ballot papers – above and below-the-line – are then counted, phoned through to the Divisional Returning Officer and entered into the election management system.
Declaration envelopes containing absent votes, pre-poll declaration votes (i.e. those pre-poll votes cast outside an elector's division), postal votes and provisional votes are not included in the count until after polling day.
The National Tally Room is organised by the AEC to provide a central point for the display of election results on election night. The National Tally Room is one of Australia's largest media gatherings with representation from the radio, print and television media.
The election figures for the House of Representatives are displayed on a manual tally board which dominates the front of the tally room. The tally board provides a backdrop for television coverage of the election and may be viewed by the public.