7 May 2024

Official 2023 election result final check done in a few hours, under extreme pressure

2:53 pm on 7 May 2024
Voting sign, election, ballot

Photo: RNZ / Kymberlee Fernandes

The final check of the official election result was done in a few hours, under extreme pressure, on the day it was announced, an investigation has found.

The rushed assessment, which failed to identify multiple errors in the official results, would normally take two days.

The auditor general's inquiry also identified a further problem with the official count, which saw some apparent dual votes be included.

John Ryan's launched his investigation into the Electoral Commission's quality assurance procedures after multiple errors with the final count were revealed.

In November, the Electoral Commission admitted more than 700 votes that had been left off the final vote and 15 voting places had data entry errors.

The errors did not result in any major changes to the overall results or allocation of seats once amended.

Ryan's report said the errors occurred because votes were miscounted and in one instance, a ballot box was misplaced.

The auditor general found the Electoral Commission's checks were "ineffective", "not done properly" and did not "prevent or detect the errors identified".

"Electorate quality assurance checks did not pick up the errors because, in some instances, those checks were either not done or not done with the rigour they required, for reasons that I describe below.

"The National Office's quality assurance checks did not pick up these errors, again in part because the checks were not carried out with sufficient rigour due to the compressed time available.

"My staff were told that some electorate managers placed undue reliance on the quality assurance checks being carried out at National Office, while National Office may have made assumptions about the rigour being applied by electorate managers in carrying out their reasonableness checks."

Even if Electoral Commission staff had carried out the proper checks, Ryan said they would not have been effective.

"Not all of the official count controls were well understood, not all controls were monitored, and there was nothing in place to provide evidence that the quality assurance checks had been done or done properly," his report said.

The auditor general identified several factors he thought had contributed to a situation where mistakes could be made and go undetected, including an increase in late enrolments and special votes.

In the two weeks before October's election, more people than ever before (454,000 people) enrolled to vote, including more than 100,000 enrolments on election day.

The Electoral Commission did not expect this number of late enrolments, putting pressure on its systems, the report said.

"There were not enough staff to process the volume of election-day enrolments in the time allowed for this to be completed," the report said.

There were also 600,000 special votes cast, an increase of 100,00 when compared to the 2020 election, putting further pressure on staff.

These increases resulted in a delay to the Electoral Commission's work, which meant there was little time to conduct the final check of the result.

"A final quality assurance process that would usually take two days was completed in a few hours, under extreme pressure, on the day the official result was announced.

"The final quality assurance process failed to detect and prevent the errors in the official results."

Further problem with official count identified

During their investigation, auditor general staff found another problem with the official election count, which meant apparent dual votes had been counted.

The Electoral Commission instructed electorate staff to resolve any outstanding any apparent dual votes, the evening before the official result was announced.

Staff had been instructed to use "the best information they had at that time", the report said.

"This instruction was not universally implemented, meaning that some apparent dual votes were included in the official results.

The Electoral Commission was not aware that the instructions had not been followed, which meant that this issue was not considered as part of judicial recount processes, the report said.

The Electoral Commission has since reviewed the results and confirmed the error did not change the outcome in any electorate.


Auditor general John Ryan made seven recommendations, which he said the Electoral Commission accepted.

  • Review all vote counting and quality assurance checks and controls to address gaps and vulnerabilities;
  • Review and update standard operations manuals and instructions, to improve the clarity of information about quality control activities and why they are important and to clarify accountability and responsibility for carrying them out;
  • Complete the end-to-end description of the election process and interdependencies of activities, and identify controls that support the election process;
  • Review the personnel requirements for elections, the process for recruiting and training election workers, and planning for contingencies (such as staff unavailability, system outages, and fatigue);
  • Review hardware requirements, to ensure that electorates have sufficient technology to complete tasks required of them;
  • Review the information technology systems that support the election process to ensure that they remain fit for purpose for both electorate and National Office functions; and
  • Enhance risk identification processes and continue to apply programme and project management disciplines (including managing risks) throughout the election period.

Errors made 'by people under pressure'

In a statement chief electoral officer Karl Le Quesne said the errors would not have affected the outcome in an electorate or for the party vote

"There will always be errors in a predominantly manual process and we need to make sure our processes and controls pick them up effectively," Le Quesne said.

"These were errors made by people under pressure. While the errors were too small to affect the results, we deeply regret they occurred. Our priority is improving the systems and controls we have in place and continuing to deliver elections with integrity."

The recommendations will be fully implemented, he said.

Work already underway included:

  • A comprehensive internal review of the delivery of the 2023 General Election and post-election period
  • Adopting a new assurance framework
  • Audits of post-election and enrolment processes to identify any further gaps or improvements
  • Reviewing operating manuals and training to improve the implementation of quality assurance controls during delivery of elections
  • Prioritising improvements to post-election processes to improve the integrity and timeliness of the official count
  • Approving short-term changes to strengthen the official count process for any by-election required before a full
  • Review of post-election processes is completed

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