Victorian Electoral Commissionq. Ballot Paper Scanning. Local Government Post Election Information Series

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1 Cover 11 - Ballot Paper Scanning.pdf 1 6/10/2009 8:33:19 AM Victorian Electoral Commissionq Ballot Paper Scanning Local Government Post Election Information Series

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3 INTRODUCTION The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) first developed its computer count application to support the counting and calculation of results for local government elections in The VEC has continued to use this counting system for local government elections each year since The VEC conducted a pilot program for the 2008 local government elections whereby data entry of ballot papers for some local government elections was replaced with an intelligent character recognition (ICR) scanning solution. The scanning solution fully integrated with the VEC s current computerised counting system passing data containing ballot paper preferences to the VEC s computer count. No changes were made to the computer count application in the way results were calculated. This document outlines the process that the VEC followed in conducting a computerised count supported by a ballot paper scanning solution and includes the VEC s observations of the 2008 pilot. The following councils took part in the pilot program. The selection of councils invited to participate in the pilot was based on the size of each ward, ward enrolment numbers and the anticipated number of candidates for each ward. Council Ward Attendance or Postal Enrolment Number of candidates Glen Eira City Camden Attendance 30,141 7 Rosstown Attendance 32,961 8 Tucker Attendance 32, Stonnington City East Postal 26, North Postal 25, South Postal 24, Yarra City Langridge Attendance 20,359 7 Melba Attendance 23,212 9 Nicholls Attendance 20,006 6 Overview The following steps summarise the main elements of a computer count utilising the ballot paper scanning technology: The returning officer determines the total number of ballot papers to be accounted for in the count. (See the VEC booklets Ballot Paper Tracking Attendance Elections and Ballot Paper Tracking Postal Elections which are part of the VEC s Local Government Election Series); All ballot papers that appear to be formal are batched into 50s; Ballot papers that are obviously informal are batched into one group; Ballot papers are scanned using Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software; An image is created of each ballot paper from which the voter preferences are determined; Page 1 q

4 Formality rules for the election are applied and the system identifies and flags all potentially informal votes; Ballot papers flagged as informal are checked by election officials and if informal confirmed in system; Informal ballot papers are removed from scanned batches and rechecked by election officials in the presence of scrutineers; Preferences from formal ballot papers are extracted from the scanning solution and imported into the VEC s Election Management System (EMS). The number of formal ballot papers in each formal batch in EMS is reconciled against the total formal ballot papers in each batch in the scanning application; Once all ballot papers have been scanned and informal checks completed, the total number of informal ballot papers is recorded against batch one in the computer application; The result is calculated and the progress of the count is projected onto a screen for those present to view; distribution reports are provided to interested parties for review prior to the formal declaration of the election; and The result is formally declared by the returning officer. Candidate Information Session Candidate information sessions are held to allow candidates and scrutineers to gain an understanding of the scanning count process. Each session takes place at the actual count site and comprises of an overview of the processes to be followed and a full demonstration of the count where those in attendance follow a batch of demonstration ballot papers from the commencement of scanning through to the import of the output files into the count application and result calculation. Preparation of ballot paper batches Prior to the batching of ballot papers, a rough sort of ballot papers is conducted to remove ballot papers that are obviously informal into one batch. Remaining ballot papers are counted and batched into 50s. A numbered batch cover slip is attached to each batch. The Returning Officers completes a Batch Advice Summary Form (M555) for each set of ballot papers. This travels with the ballot papers to the count site and is reconciled by the Team Leader at the count venue prior to the count commencing. Scanning Only ballot papers for one council ward are counted at one time by each team. Strict management of ballot papers is in place to ensure ballot papers from different elections do not get mixed. Each individual batch of ballot papers is check counted to ensure the batches contain the amount detailed on the batch cover sheet. The scanning process takes place in a number of stages prior to the data being made available to the VEC s computer count system. The stages are: Scanning of papers: Ballot paper batches are scanned and an image of the batch cover sheet and each ballot paper captured. As each ballot paper is scanned the scanning software endorses the reverse side of the ballot paper with the batch number and the ballot paper number to assist when identifying specific ballot papers in each batch. Page 2 q

5 First stage verification As each ballot paper is scanned, the scanning software reads the preferences written on the ballot paper. The system then categorises each ballot paper according to whether the preferences can be determined. Where preferences can be successfully read, the scanning software checks the ballot paper formality and prepares each for data extract. Where the system cannot confidently determine the characters on the ballot paper the system either: presents a copy of the ballot paper image flagged to indicate the physical number that cannot be read; or presents a numeric list showing questionable characters. Verification operators undertake mass correction of any questionable characters, they DO NOT make any formality decisions at this stage, they only undertake character recognition. Second stage verification All first stage verification ballot papers decided by verification officers are rechecked for accuracy by one or more supervisors to ensure a correct determination was made by the verification officers. As supervisor verification of ballot papers and batches is completed the scanning system checks the ballot papers for formality. The formality rules are applied as determined in local government legislation. Page 3 q

6 Review of informal ballot papers The system provides for manual intervention where the marks scanned are not absolutely clear. Ballot papers flagged and confirmed as informal are not included in the data extract files and are not imported into the count system. Where an election official determines that ballot papers initially thought to be informal are in fact formal, corrections are made and the status of the paper is updated to formal. Prior to accepting the updated status, the scanning software rechecks the formality of the ballot paper. Staff undertaking informality checking are appointed by the returning officer and are experienced in the formality rules for local government elections. NOTE: The scanning application contains a number of rules to ensure all ballot papers that cannot be accurately determined are confirmed by at least two operators. Ballot papers are automatically confirmed as formal where: They contain a series of numbers written inside the boxes on the ballot paper, in an unbroken sequence of numbers commencing with a one (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8); One ballot square on the ballot paper is blank and the number missing in the sequence is the last number (e.g. where eight candidates are listed on the ballot paper and the ballot squares were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 and 8 is the missing number, the ballot paper was tagged as formal); No extraneous information is marked outside any ballot squares. Ballot papers are tagged as needing further verification by an election official if: They contain a series of numbers written inside the ballot squares on the ballot paper where one or more numbers in the sequence has been duplicated (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, or 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5); They contain a series of numbers written inside the ballot squares on the ballot paper and one or more numbers in the sequence is missing (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7); Ballot papers appear to be blank; The ICR software is not confident to within 99.9% accuracy that it can correctly interpret the handwritten numbers; Characters other than numbers in one or more ballot squares appear on the ballot paper (such as ticks, crosses, letters or other non-numeric characters). Data extract and import into computerised counting application Formal preferences for each batch of ballot papers are extracted into an XML (extensible mark-up language) file, once: all ballot papers in the batch have been scanned, verified and checked for formality and committed to the system; and all batches have been reconciled with Scanning Reports. The XML data files are extracted at regular intervals throughout the count process. When importing XML files into EMS a series of validation checks are run to ensure the files are in the correct format. Exceptions are raised where certain conditions have not been met. Exceptions are resolved before import is completed. Page 4 q

7 Manual data entry of ballot papers Once all scanned batches of ballot papers have been imported into the computer count application manual entry of ballot papers directly into the computerised counting application takes place. Manual entry is undertaken for: Damaged ballot papers or those that have been repaired with sticky tape; and Scanned ballot papers that were identified as informal and subsequently deemed formal by the Returning Officer. Final reconciliation Once processing of all ballot papers has been completed for a particular ward, reconciliation of ballot papers processed through the scanning application and imported into the computerised counting application takes place to ensure that all ballot papers expected in the count have been processed. Completion of scanning and import Once final reconciliation has taken place, the final number of informal ballot papers is recorded against batch one in the computerised counting application. The total number of formal and informal ballot papers recorded on the computer is reconciled against: the Returning Officer s initial balance figure (this may vary slightly where batches were not exactly 50); and the total number of formal and informal ballot papers recorded on the reconciliation reports at the end of the scanning and import processes. Final computer validation ensures that the expected batches have been entered, that totals are valid and that the calculation of results may proceed. Calculation of result Once reconciliation has been completed and the computer records have been validated, the result is calculated. The Returning Officer presses the calculate button on the computer and observers watch the progress of the count projected onto a screen. Scrutineers and candidates are provided with a printed distribution report showing the full record of the count as soon as practicable after the calculation of the result. This is provided at the count venue. Scrutineers and candidates are given time to inspect the report prior to the conduct of the declaration by the Returning Officer. Page 5 q

8 SCRUTINEERS AND TRANSPARENCY Each candidate can be represented by one scrutineer for every election official involved in the count and scrutineers are able to observe all aspects of the computer count process. During scanning and data import, the Returning Officer generates and displays for scrutineers hardcopy reports showing the progressive first preference results for each candidate. These reports are generated from both the scanning and the computer count applications in order to show that figures balance across each application. Copies are also made available to scrutineers on request. Scrutineers may also request that a particular batch or batch range be scrutinised further from either application. This may be done via a computer terminal or a report can be generated that shows the preferences recorded for each ballot paper for a defined batch or batch range. This allows scrutineers to verify the accuracy of the scanning and extract/import by comparing the preferences shown on each ballot paper in a batch against the preferences recorded for the corresponding batch on the computer. Scrutineers may also challenge the validity of individual ballot papers by noting the batch and ballot paper number. These are extracted from completed batches and are ruled upon by the Returning Officer. At the scanning centre, back to back PCs are established at both the validation and informal checking stages where scrutineers can observe on screen the decisions made by election officials when determining ballot paper formality. Page 6 q

9 OBSERVATIONS As an overall observation the scanning pilot worked extremely well for the 2008 local government elections. The software that reads ballot paper preferences is quite mature, however this could be further enhanced by further modifying the read software to reduce the number of ballot papers in question at the first stage verification process. A higher read rate could reduce the number of stages in the process. Timing of count Overall there were no savings to be made in the time required for the conduct of the count based on the current scanning processes. This, in part, is due to the number of stages required for a scanning count. Ballot papers are in effect handled five times as they move through the various processes. Overall count time savings could be made if the scanning software that reads ballot paper preferences could be enhanced to lift the system confidence level when determining preferences, therefore reducing the number of ballot papers that needed to be reviewed at first and second stage verification. Staff numbers Staff numbers for a count by scanning were only marginally less than required for a computerised count by data entry. Savings to staff numbers could be achieved if the scanning process is enhanced as detailed in Timing of Count above. Further staff cuts could be achieved at future counts by reducing the number of staff employed to undertake informality checks and to assist with enquiries during the count. Transparency A major benefit of the scanning operation is the transparency of ballot papers. Staff and scrutineers are able to quickly and efficiently identify and locate ballot papers. Ballot paper images can be quickly brought to screen for auditing purposes or for those papers in question by a scrutineer. Feedback The VEC received extremely positive feedback from scrutineers and candidates on the ballot paper scanning pilot. Feedback from scrutineers included I was scrutineering on Sunday for the Stonnington elections and part of Monday for the Glen Eira election. The counting set up was easily the best I have ever seen in any election. The scanning equipment appears to be faultless. Benefits With the scanning application in its current form, the operation of small scanning centres for elections with small fields of candidates is less efficient than computerised counting using data entry. Efficiencies are gained where there are larger fields of candidates that previously resulted in the computer counts by data entry taking a number of days to complete. Further benefits could be gained where larger, centralised counting venues were established. There are some issues regarding the cost of establishing scanning centres for counting but this can be revisited and a more cost effective solution developed taking into consideration the items above. Page 7 q

10 WHERE TO FROM HERE? The VEC will not be utilising scanning for the 2010 State election as further enhancements to the scanning software would be required to accommodate upper house (Region) ballot papers. Additionally, there are smaller fields of candidates for each lower house (District) seat, therefore no time savings are envisaged should the scanning application be implemented. Further consideration will be given for the use of scanning technology for future local government elections and commercial elections conducted by the VEC. At local government elections the VEC is able to more reliably predict those elections which could involve large fields of candidates. These elections benefit from the use of scanning technology. Page 8 q

11 State of Victoria 2009 This publication is copyright. No part may be reproduced by any process except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act Address all enquiries to the Victorian Electoral Commission, Level 8, 505 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria Revision: 1 October 2009

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