There are 151 House of Representatives seats and a significant proportion of ballot papers for each seat are counted on election night.
The strength of an indication of an election night result in any one seat depends entirely on the number of votes cast via post and away from home, in combination with how close the result is.
After a polling place closes at 6pm on election night AEC polling officials open and empty House of Representatives ballot boxes. Ballot papers are unfolded and all the number '1' votes (first preferences) are put into separate piles for each candidate and counted.
This activity is also undertaken in central AEC counting centres where a significant proportion of votes cast at early voting centres will be counted on election night as well.
Formality: Ballot papers that are not completed correctly are referred to as informal ballot papers. Informal ballot papers are placed in their own pile and counted separately.
Following the first preference count, AEC staff then conduct what is called a two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count. This involves the distribution of every formal ballot paper to one of the two candidates (whoever has the higher preference) predicted to be the leading candidates in the contest.
The TCP count is a mandatory requirement and is conducted to give an early indication of who is most likely to win each seat, as this is not always clear from first preferences.
The AEC selects two candidates based on a number of factors including historical voting patterns in previous elections. The names of the two candidates are kept confidential until the close of the voting.
In instances where it is evident that one or both of the leading candidates differ from the prediction, the TCP count is restarted and preferences are distributed to the correct two leading candidates in the days following election night. This has historically been referred to as a seat going ‘maverick’.
Transparency: As with all stages of the counting process, the election night count is fully open to party-appointed scrutineers and all results are published on the AEC’s tally room in real time.
The days and weeks after election night include not just standard counting activities but also a significant amount of secure transport, enrolment validation and secondary verification counts (fresh scrutiny).
Transport takes time and in the days following election day there are millions of votes cast away from home (declaration votes) that are securely packaged, transported back to the relevant AEC counting centre and validated against the electoral roll.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of postal votes will be delivered to AEC counting centres each day to also be receipted and validated against the electoral roll before they can be counted.
A declaration vote is cast when a person votes at a location, or in way, that does not allow them to be marked off the electoral roll at that time. This includes early voting centres outside your state or territory, mobile voting teams and postal votes.
The declaration a voter makes provides sufficient details to the AEC to be able to validate them against the electoral roll before including their ballot papers in the count. Once validated against the roll, the declaration envelope is opened face down and the ballot papers extracted, without being unfolded, and placed in a ballot box – thus preserving the secrecy of the vote.
The AEC is required to wait 13 days after election day to receive declaration votes before it can finalise counting.
Every single House of Representatives ballot paper is counted more than once.
This mandatory secondary count is a process called fresh scrutiny that provides validation of the original, indicative count. Fresh scrutiny commences from the Monday after election night.
Once the votes are counted and a successful candidate has been determined there is a public declaration of the result for each House of Representatives seat.
The declaration test: To be able to legally declare a House of Representatives result, the margin in a contest must be greater than the potential number of votes left to be received and counted – AND the AEC must have completed the mandatory secondary count on those votes.
The earliest a formal results declaration can happen for any House of Representatives seat is a few days after election day. The latest it can happen is the scheduled return of writs date. This is entirely dependent on the margin in the seat and the number of votes to be received. In close contests, the AEC has often counted every vote in our possession at the end of each day of counting.
For the House of Representatives, the Electoral Commissioner will return the writs for each state and territory endorsed with the name of the successful candidate for each seat in that state or territory. These writs are returned to the Governor-General.