Mitchell council election scrutineering questioned

By Jackson Russell

Mitchell Shire election scrutineers are having difficulty fulfilling their roles due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place at electoral offices.

A scrutineer for the Mitchell Shire election, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Review that with five scrutineers and two office staff, scrutineers are having to take turns watching staff and are struggling to see staff’s screens while social distancing as votes are counted at the former Killara Children’s Centre in Wallan.

The scrutineer said the system was not well thought out.

“Because of the distancing, you can’t see the screen or the piece of paper, which sort of defeats the objective,” they said.

“When we first got here, we couldn’t believe it. Firstly, what would’ve been easier would be to not have the election but also wouldn’t it have been easier to get one big screen on the wall so the scrutineers could see what was going on?”

The scrutineer said there was a consensus among scrutineers regarding the issues and emphasised their issue was not with individual staff but with the system overall.

“They’re being very transparent, there’s nothing wrong with what the people are doing here but we should never have an election now when shops and businesses are being closed. It just makes one question the validity, logistics and sense of it,” they said.

“The ballot form is on the screen and the figures are input by the data input people. We can see it, but we can’t make out the numbers. All the other scrutineers are saying the same thing.”

The Victorian Electoral Commission believes there will be a record turnout for the local government elections with about 3.2 million ballot envelopes received across the state as of last Tuesday.

Manual counting of ballots is generally performed in single councillor wards, whereas computer data entry is required to calculate the results for multi-member wards in a proportional representation system.

Electoral commissioner Warwick Gately said processing the larger number of returns meant the extraction of ballot papers from envelopes in preparation for counting or data entry was slower than anticipated in some areas.

“We must also ensure strict adherence to our COVIDSafe plan to maintain the health and wellbeing of our staff and scrutineers and this is also slowing the process,” he said.

“I ask all election participants to be patient as the wellbeing of our people and the accuracy of the process must remain the prime considerations over a rushed result.

“The target to complete all counting and the declaration of all results remains Friday, November 13.”

The Review asked the VEC for further comment on the Mitchell Shire election process but failed to receive a response before deadline.

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