I am pleased to present the Australian Electoral Commission's publication on the conduct of the 1999 referendum.
Conducting a federal referendum is one of the largest logistical activities that any nation undertakes. While most of us take it for granted that polling places will open on polling day and everything will be there to enable us to vote – a lot of hard work and planning goes on behind the scenes.
This publication tells the story from the AEC's perspective of the work that went on behind the scenes for the 1999 referendum. The first part explains how the AEC conducted the referendum and the second part provides the official results of the referendum in various statistical tables. The results information is in a summary format in this publication and is in more detail electronically on a CD-ROM.
For the 1999 referendum the AEC employed some 60 000 polling officials to assist over 12 million electors to vote in over 8 000 polling places. Many of these 60 000 polling officials have worked for the AEC for many years over many events and take great pride in their role.
For most Australian electors, their key contact with the AEC is when they vote at their local polling places which are staffed by our casual polling officials. The AEC acknowledges the dedication and work of this 'casual army' who help us to successfully conduct federal elections and referendums.
On referendum night, the ballot papers were counted after the polls closed and the results entered into the AEC's computerised referendum management system. There was no tally room at this referendum, instead the 'virtual tally room' on the AEC's internet website was the main means of disseminating results. The website has enhanced the accessibility and timeliness of the release of results and proved very popular with approximately 154 000 people downloading over 1.3 million page views on referendum night alone.
The website is just one example of the AEC taking advantage of the latest technology to enhance the way that we conduct elections. Much of the calculation and publication of results is already computerised and, for the first time ever, at the referendum we issued postal votes using an automated system. While the traditional paper ballot is not obsolete yet, and in fact has very tangible advantages for the democratic process, the AEC keeps a watching brief on developments in the area of electronic voting. There has been much change in the past 20 years and while there will be more in the future, some large logistical, resource and security issues have to be solved before electronic voting becomes a fact of electoral life.
Whatever the future, the AEC will continue in its role of working 'behind the scenes' to provide an efficient and effective electoral administration of which Australia can be proud.
There are many ways to find out more information about Australia's electoral system and the services of the AEC. You can phone our national enquiry service on 13 23 26, visit our web site at www.aec.gov.au or visit your nearest Divisional Office or the Electoral Education Centres in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.