The AEC provides polling services for federal elections, by-elections and referendums. It is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to enrol and vote in these electoral events. The AEC supports this by:
- providing a range of voting options
- monitoring and responding to voter turnout and formality
The AEC also conducts Senate special counts and delivers other elections and ballots as required or authorised by legislation. These include elections for the Torres Strait Regional Authority board and registered organisations, and protected action ballots.
In 2019–20 the AEC prepared for one by-election, and moved into the ‘lessons’ phase of the electoral cycle, following delivery of the 2019 federal election. Detailed information on the federal election is available in the 2019 Electoral Pocketbook at www.aec.gov.au.
Highlights of the year
Lessons from the 2019 federal election
In 2019–20 the AEC identified focus areas and actions following lessons from the 2019 election. With no fixed date for federal elections, the AEC must always be ready to deliver an electoral event at any point in the electoral cycle. We do this through effective election planning and balancing the appropriate level of election readiness with risks and cost.
Through the lessons management framework, the AEC assesses priorities and preparations for future electoral events. This framework allows the AEC to respond to emerging trends through real-time trending data and post event analysis, and to continue modernising the model for delivering elections.
Preparing to deliver a by-election in the COVID-19 environment
In 2019–20 the AEC prepared for one by-election for the House of Representatives for the federal electoral division of Eden-Monaro. This by-election was triggered by the resignation of a sitting member of Parliament.
Delivering a by-election in the COVID-19 environment required close consultation with the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and the NSW Department of Health. A specific NSW Health Order was established to facilitate the event.
Service plans were revised to include COVID-19 mitigations, and additional resources were made available to manage the increase in postal and early voting.
Election procedures at polling places and the vote counting centre were updated to facilitate social distancing and other infection control measures. These included:
- hygiene officers at each polling place to implement touch point cleaning during polling
- queue monitoring personnel to maintain social distancing outside polling places
Dedicated training packages addressing COVID-19 infection control measures were provided to polling centre staff. A targeted communication campaign provided by-election information, including the COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce
In 2019–20 the Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce collaborated on electoral integrity matters as required. The Taskforce is formed for federal electoral events with a number of member Australian Government agencies. It enabled efficient and effective communication and coordination on matters relating to the integrity of the 2019 federal election.
The Taskforce is supported by the national intelligence community and comprises the following agencies:
- Australian Electoral Commission (Co-Chair)
- Department of Finance (Co-Chair)
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications
- Attorney-General’s Department
- Department of Home Affairs
- Australian Federal Police
- Australian Signals Directorate
Taskforce agencies provide guidance and expertise on a broad range of issues within the Australian electoral environment, including electoral policy and electoral integrity.
As part of the successful operation of the Taskforce, the 2019 federal election saw marked improvement in engagement undertaken with major online and social media organisations. The AEC is also exploring future improvements and applications of the ‘Stop and Consider’ campaign. Overseas electoral commissions, such as Elections Canada and the UK Electoral Commission, have indicated a desire to run, or are conducting, similar campaigns.
The Taskforce is a model for agencies across government working together to support the integrity of Australian elections.
As well as the Taskforce, and steps taken to mitigate cyber threats at the federal election and by-elections, the AEC works consistently to enhance its cyber security posture. This includes:
- undertaking regular security testing activities, using external authorities and experts to assure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of AEC systems
- conducting incident response workshops for internal and external service providers to support the AEC’s cyber response
- implementing mitigation strategies to protect the AEC network, including the Australian Signals Directorate’s Essential 8 to mitigate cyber intrusions
- ensuring staff complete mandatory security awareness training
- continually improving the AEC’s technical and people capability to manage cyber risks
Modernising the AEC’s election and enrolment system
In 2019–20 the AEC prepared a business case to modernise its core electoral systems.
The risk of election failure continues to escalate if core AEC election systems are not modernised. A modernised electoral management system and infrastructure will improve our capability to deal with security risks, and enhance our ability to detect, prevent and respond to cyber-attacks and external interference.
Industrial elections and ballots
The AEC conducted 908 industrial and commercial elections or ballots during the year after implementing a new design to deliver these events.
Torres Strait Regional Authority elections
The AEC conducts elections for the Torres Strait Regional Authority Board. In 2019–20 the AEC:
- declared a new member for the Boigu Island ward
- conducted elections for the Torres Strait Regional Authority Board
- conducted a by-election for the Ugar Island ward on Saturday 12 October
On 16 April 2020 the Minister for Indigenous Australians, announced Torres Strait Regional Authority elections—due to take place by July 2020—would be postponed due to COVID19. These elections must now be held no later than 31 March 2021.
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