The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is responsible for conducting federal elections. To assist it to conduct the 2016 federal election, the AEC procured the services of ten organisations under 17 contracts to transport ballot papers and other items at a cost of $8.7 million. The AEC also procured the services of an ICT supplier for $27.2 million to develop and deliver a Senate scanning system. This was a semi-automated process for capturing voter preferences from Senate ballot papers for entry into the count, as the previous manual process was no longer considered viable following significant changes to Senate voting provisions in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act).
The procurements were undertaken, and the Senate scanning system developed, in a tight timeframe given the changes to the Electoral Act were passed 18 March 2016, the double dissolution election was announced 9 May 2016 and the election was held 2 July 2016.
The objective of this audit was to assess whether the AEC appropriately established and managed the contracts for the transportation of ballot papers and the Senate scanning system for the 2016 federal election. To form a conclusion against the audit objective, the ANAO adopted the following high-level audit criteria:
- Did the procurement processes demonstrably achieve value for money?
- Were key risks to the security and integrity of ballot papers, and of ballot paper data, addressed?
- Did the AEC obtain adequate assurance of the service deliverables and of the effectiveness of risk treatments?
In delivering the 2016 federal election the AEC established and managed contracts for the transportation of ballot papers and, in a short timeframe, for a Senate scanning system. Insufficient emphasis was given by the AEC to open and effective competition in its procurement processes as a means of demonstrably achieving value for money. Its contract and risk management was also not consistently to an appropriate standard.
The AEC has not demonstrably achieved value for money in its procurement of Senate scanning services. It has not used competitive pressure to drive value nor given due consideration to cost in its procurement decision-making. The AEC sought to encourage competition amongst transport providers but at times struggled to achieve value for money. It would have benefited from additional logistics expertise and transport industry knowledge when establishing and managing transport arrangements.
Most contracts with suppliers contained comprehensive security requirements that appropriately reflected the AEC’s ballot paper handling policy. The AEC was generally satisfied that the requirements were implemented.
The AEC addressed risks to the security and integrity of ballot paper data through the design and testing of the Senate scanning system. The AEC accepted IT security risk above its usual tolerance. Insufficient attention was paid to ensuring the AEC could identify whether the system had been compromised.
The Senate scanning and transport suppliers delivered the services as contracted. The AEC had limited insight into whether its contractual and procedural risk treatments were effective. Going forward, the AEC needs to be better able to verify and demonstrate the integrity of its electoral data.