16 Oct 2020

Election 2020: Everything to know about counting the votes

From Checkpoint, 6:13 pm on 16 October 2020

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Advance voting could crack the two million mark by close of play on Friday.

The Electoral Commission has been crunching the numbers. Total early votes topped 1.74 million on Thursday, already half a million ahead 2017's total.

And Friday was looking like the busiest yet. So in simple terms that could mean about 55 percent of voters have already rolled the dice ahead of election day.

The Electoral Commision's manager of voting services, Graeme Astle, told Checkpoint all the ordinary votes that have been cast early will be counted from 9am Saturday.

"They will continue counting through the day until they finish. So, a lot of votes to get through, a very busy day tomorrow for our elecorate headquarters. And that happens while we are doing the Election Day voting out in all the 2,500 or more voting places.

"Each of the electorates has a pretty extensive headquarter building, and all of the votes that have been taken prior to Election Day are repatriated back to those headquarters and they are sorted.

"As we've worked through the advanced voting leading up to [Friday] each of the headquarters will have been doing plans to work out how long they will need to do the counting, how many people they will need.

"We've done some time and motion studies, and we've got sort of an estimate of how many votes people be able to do per hour.

"What we have to do is, voting place by voting place, from nine o'clock [we] open those ballot boxes. And then sort all the papers to make sure that the correct papers are in the right ballot boxes.

"Some of our electorates will be doing well over 100 counts tomorrow, so there's a logistical exercise that will take quite a bit of time, and they have to go through each one of those in a very logical managed way without rushing.

"And then once that's all been done, they can then start counting.

"They will have a number of teams, so they could have six, seven or eight teams of people working on a voting place at a time simultaneously, getting through that process and recording the outcomes.

"We do an assessment of all of the ordinary votes issued at a particular voting place. So on a daily basis we know how many votes have been issued, how many voting papers they have. And so we've got to account for that before we start, so we know what number we're going to be counting to.

"We have a small threshold of difference, depending on the volumes of papers, but generally people, if they've issued 200 for a voting place, they'll count 200.

"That's the process that we go through to make sure the result on the night is as reasonably accurate as we possibly can get it, in the knowledge that we do an official count after it.

"It's all manual. What happens [on Saturday] morning is essentially people will be sequestered into a room. They will give up their cellphones and any other electronic transmitting devices, and they will remain in that room for the rest of the day, except for any escorted toilet stops.

"They stay in the room and that's all designed to ensure that no results can in any way be leaked out in advance of 7pm [Saturday] night.

"At 7pm when the doors open, it depends - some electorates may still be working on their counts because of the size. Other electorates might be completed, but we then have a team of data entry operators, and they will be entering those results in for those advanced voting places.

"Once it goes in it goes automatically up into the media feed.

"Then, we expect the counts from voting places on election day to start coming in, probably from about 8.30pm. And they will gradually come in as well so you'll see them as they come in and are checked and entered, they'll be part of that media feed.

"You'll get a fair indication, probably in the first hour after 7pm, of the advanced vote counts. Our aim is to finish the counting before 7pm, but that's not always possible but just because of the sheer volume.

"And then in parallel to that you'll start to see what happens on Election Day, those votes as well as that freedom."

Astle said he's excited to see how the numbers go on Saturday.

"We're seeing a lot more young people out there voting, which has been one of our focuses. And I think we've just accessed areas of the country where people probably wouldn't think that we would be. We've tried to make it as accessible as possible. And we've tried to help as many people as possible to get a vote."

Join RNZ to see the results of Election 2020, from 7pm Saturday at rnz.co.nz and on TV Freeview 50.