Bringing Change
Every 3 years Election Services helps bring new initiatives to the election process for the local government elections. 2016 was the biggest year yet.

New Zealand’s local government elections (LGEs) come around every 3 years and give the team at Election Services some of our most challenging, rewarding and exciting times. Since processing our first LGE in 1995, Election Services has been working alongside local authorities for over 20 years to deliver accurate and timely results for 8 LGEs across the nation.

Our 2016 LGE, was the biggest yet with over 1.6 million voting documents issued.

About

The 2016 LGEs were undertaken by postal vote using both FPP and STV voting methods. Our processing centre worked around the clock to deliver accurate and precise results to the local authorities, health boards, licensing trusts and their constituents.

In order to process such a massive amount of data, we utilized our unique scanning and election management processing platforms to their full extent.

The Goal

Elections ran from 16 September to 8 October in 2016 - the goal, as always, was to process votes in a timely manner.

This meant having FPP progress results out shortly after close of voting, preliminary results out the next day and declaring final results within the week - meeting these deadlines meant our clients and the public could be informed of the choices made as soon as possible.

The Result

Voting documents were sent out to 1.6 million electors and we received close to 625,000 returned votes by close of voting at 12 noon on October 8th.

We had progress results for FPP to our councils within an hour. Preliminary results by the following morning and final results, including special votes, declared within 5 days - right on schedule!

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Approach

Election Services is a small team, so you can imagine taking on the mammoth task of an LGE requires hard work and dedication. In order to meet our goals, we scaled up in all aspects and set up a dedicated processing centre, working hard at all hours till we finished the work and declared the final result.


Preparation

The process of running an election, especially elections on the national scale, is a complex matter. Electors have different entitlements based on factors like their primary residence, area they live and secondary houses and homes - all of this can add up to hundreds of voting ‘combinations’! Our team ensured that each individual voter received the correct pack in order to vote on the issues they were eligible for, and readied our processes to receive those votes in the meantime.

Election Services also handled the nominations process, ensuring candidates have gone through the necessary steps to run for the variety of issues available.

Upscaling

In order to process the hundreds of thousands of votes that we receive with every LGE, Election Services needed to scale up our staff and resources - so we started by carrying out the labour intensive process of moving to a larger premises and then taking on over 100 additional staff during LGE! Coordinating, managing and training might seem daunting to some, but our experienced team are always up to the task.

Returns

As votes start to make their way back to our processing centre, our staff work tirelessly to prepare them for processing, as well as providing call centre and voter assistance services like issuing and receiving special voting and informational packs to public and officials. Fielding the vast array of questions and situations requires a diverse knowledge base and a large amount of experience, but our team as always was up to the challenge.

Processing

Our vote processing system involves scrutiny with checks for duplicate and voter fraud, full page Optical Mark and Intelligent Character Recognition scanning, 2-part validation where discrepancies are compared and identified and reconciliation is undertaken. Our processes are thorough and transparent, designed to give the most accurate results. See our elections and polls page.

Voting Day and Results

When voting closed in October our team kicked into gear working all through the day and night to deliver the FPP progress results to our councils within an hour, preliminary results by the following morning and final results, including special votes, declared within 5 days. We received close to 625,000 voting documents throughout the election. Votes were further complicated by 632 different voting combinations and 2 voting methods (FPP and STV), but our team was able to handle everything that was thrown at it, and have the final result right on schedule!

Challenges


Challenges arose from the varying ways in which votes were returned and the high number of hand delivered votes on election day. All votes need to be organised, sorted and batched and votes that are returned to various service centres around the country can arrive at different times after the voting period closes, creating delays in the early stages of processing.

New Zealand’s two different voting systems First Past the Post (FPP) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) require completely different approaches in order to process. The two systems are in very different formats (FPP is binary, STV uses numbers to allocate preference), and a valid vote is not required to fill in all fields making for a great variety of returning data. As you can imagine, handling this requires a specialised approach.

Every council is important from the smallest to the largest. We processed 632 different combinations and over 625,000 voting documents and the same attention to detail and integrity of process was applied to each one. The basic explanation of combinations is that voters are entitled to vote for different things (mayor, local board, health board etc) depending on where they live, where they own property, and where they’re enrolled. As coordinator for the election, Election Services responsibilities included organising voters by combination to ensure they get the correct documents to vote on.

Solutions


High numbers of hand delivered voting documents on election day meant hard work through the night to ensure the results arrived right on schedule. Our dedicated team was ready to bend over backwards to meet the necessary goals and that allowed us to keep everything on track.


In order to successfully manage the two voting systems, Election Services utilized our unique election management software and processing practices. Our software provides us with the tools we need to accurately record and verify what votes are cast and under which system. Our company practices mean that votes counted twice, validated and reconciled accurately.




Ensuring the complex process of managing voting document combinations is handled with accuracy and without error means attention to detail is essential and the process is made easier by our unique Election Management System.

Results


2016 was a huge year for local government elections and Election Services too. We successfully ran a large number of high-profile elections, delivered over one and a half million voting packs and processed hundreds of thousands of voting document returns.

The 2016 elections used the postal voting system, but with talk of a future online voting trial, we’re looking forward to taking on the challenge of bringing online and postal voting to New Zealand local government elections for the first time.


39.48%

Voter return rate

30,000-60,000

Votes returned every day

5

Days to declare final results!