Australian Electoral Commission

Counting the votes

Updated: 13 July 2015

On election night

The counting of votes is known as the scrutiny and it is usually observed by scrutineers nominated by the candidates. The scrutiny commences on election day in each polling place after 6pm (once polling has closed). All ordinary ballot papers are counted on election night.

When a House of Representatives election and a Senate election are held in conjunction, the House of Representatives ballot papers are counted before the Senate ballot papers. If a referendum is held in conjunction with an election, the referendum ballot papers are counted after those of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Polling officials are required to complete four main counting tasks after polling has closed. They are required to:

  • count the first preferences on the House of Representatives ballot papers
  • conduct a two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count of the House of Representatives ballot papers
  • count the first preferences on the Senate ballot papers
  • count and sort any declaration vote envelopes received during the day.

The first preference results for House of Representatives ballot papers are phoned through to the Divisional Returning Officer (DRO), along with the number of informal votes. The DRO enters the results for each polling place in that division into the AEC's election management system. These results are electronically fed to the media and the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website.

Polling officials then conduct an indicative distribution of preferences (a TCP 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.

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 management system.

Declaration envelopes contain absent votes, pre-poll votes, postal votes or provisional votes. These votes, still sealed in their envelope, are transferred from the polling place to the division in which the voter is enrolled. The voter's details on the declaration envelopes are then checked before the envelopes can be opened and the votes inside counted. These can be checked from the Monday prior to election day but they cannot be opened for counting purposes until after election day.

Counting the votes for the House of Representatives and the Senate