Australian Electoral Commission

Counting the votes

Updated: 18 February 2013

On election night

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:

  • count the first preferences on the House of Representatives ballot papers
  • conduct a two-candidate-preferred 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 (these remain unopened).

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 and directly to some media.

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.

Counting the votes for the House of Representatives and the Senate