Behind the Scenes: The AEC's 1998 Federal Election Report: Scrutiny after Election Night

Updated: 4 December 2007

Scrutiny after Election Night


The initial counting of the votes conducted on election night was followed by a 'fresh scrutiny' of both House of Representatives and Senate ballot papers. This fresh scrutiny commenced on the Monday after polling day in Divisional Offices.

Due to the greater number of declaration votes expected, the order of procedures at the fresh scrutiny was altered at the 1998 federal election. At previous elections, all the ordinary votes were recounted before the scrutiny of the declaration votes commenced. However, at the 1998 election, the counting of declaration votes also commenced on the Monday so that further meaningful figures would be available earlier.

Fresh Scrutiny of Ordinary Votes

The DRO recounted all ordinary votes received from every polling place in their Division. Some ballot papers which were treated as informal on polling night were admitted to the count by the DRO, and similarly any ballots previously regarded as formal were classified as informal.

Declaration Vote Scrutiny

The scrutiny of declaration votes (pre-poll, postal, absent and provisional) also began on the monday after polling day. The scrutiny of declaration votes was conducted in two stages:

  1. preliminary scrutiny: an examination of personal elector details on postal vote certificates and declaration envelopes to determine whether the person was entitled to vote; and
  2. further scrutiny: if the elector was entitled to vote the ballot papers were then admitted to the count and were scrutinised in the same way as ordinary ballot papers.

Preliminary scrutiny

A postal vote was accepted for further scrutiny if the DRO was satisfied that the elector was enrolled (or entitled to be enrolled) for the division; their signature on the postal vote certificate was genuine and properly witnessed; and the vote contained in the envelope was recorded prior to the close of the poll.

A pre-poll, absent or provisional vote was accepted for further scrutiny if the DRO was satisfied that the elector was enrolled (or entitled to be enrolled) for the division; and that the certificate or declaration had been properly signed and witnessed.

The AEC must wait 13 days after polling day to receive postal votes before it can finalise counting. This ensured that electors in remote areas and overseas were not disenfranchised.

Further scrutiny

Once a postal, pre-poll, absent and provisional vote was admitted to the further scrutiny, the envelope was opened and the ballot paper was taken out, without being unfolded, and was placed in the ballot box. It was then treated in the same way as ordinary ballot papers.

Computerised Senate Scrutiny

computerised scrutiny system

The Senate scrutiny treated ballot papers marked above the line separately from ballot papers marked below the line. The Senate ballot papers marked above the line were manually counted in the Divisional Office and the first preference figures for each party and group were tallied.

The ballot papers marked below the line were forwarded progressively to a central scrutiny in each capital city where the computerised scrutiny took place. Following legislative change, the AEC was able for the first time at the 1998 election to conduct the Senate scrutiny by a computer process known as the Senate Scrutiny system.

The below the line preferences of each ballot paper were entered into a computer. The above the line totals for each party and group were then entered into the computer which had been programmed to distribute the preferences according to the group voting tickets lodged with the AEC.

The above the line and below the line votes were then combined by the computer which calculated the quota and distributed preferences and produced the results of the election.

Using the computerised system meant the time taken to finalise the Senate scrutiny was cut virtually in half. At the 1998 election it took just over three weeks to count the Senate votes in all States and Territories, compared with the six weeks it has taken at previous elections.


After the election all the Certified Lists of electors were electronically scanned to identify apparent non-voters and possible multiple voting.

The scanners identified from the Certified Lists:

  • whether or not a voter's name had been marked off
  • the name of the polling place and the issuing point at which the voter's name was marked
  • any voters against whose names more than one mark-off had been recorded.

Two reports were produced from the scanning results:

  • a report providing the names of those electors against whom no mark had been shown. These were identified as apparent non-voters
  • a report showing the names of voters against whom more than one mark appeared. These are identified as apparent multiple marks.

Following identification, DROs wrote to all these voters seeking details as to why they did not vote or why more than one mark appeared against their name on the Certified List.

At the 1998 federal election scanning took place at permanent AEC scanning centres in New South Wales and Queensland and at temporary locations in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. Tasmanian lists were scanned in Victoria, Australian Capital Territory lists were scanned in New South Wales and Northern Territory lists were scanned in Queensland. Scanning commenced at all sites on 5 October 1998.

Declaration of the Polls

Once the votes had been counted and a winner had been determined there was a public declaration of the result of the poll. The declaration of the poll for each seat of the House of Representatives was conducted by the DRO at the place of nomination. Similarly, the declaration of the Senate election of each State and Territory was conducted by the AEO for the State and Territory at the place of nomination.

The divisions of Gellibrand and Lalor in Victoria were the first seats declared for the House of Representatives on 9 October 1998 and all seats were declared by 27 October 1998. The Division of Newcastle was declared on 1 December 1998.

The Senate polls were declared between 23 October and 29 October 1998.

Return of the Writs

The writs for an election must be returned within 100 days of their issue. After the Senate polls were declared, the AEO for each State returned the writ for their election endorsed with the names of the successful candidates to the State Governor. The Territory AEOs returned their writs to the Governor-General.

For the House of Representatives, the Electoral Commissioner endorsed on the writs for each State and Territory the name of each candidate elected for each Division in that State or Territory. These writs were returned to the Governor General.

For the 1998 federal election the writs were required to be returned by Wednesday 9 December 1998. Writs for all States were returned by 29 October 1998 and the writ for Newcastle was returned on 1 December 1998.