Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 4 - Elections for the Senate

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Counting the vote

At the close of the poll each polling place becomes a counting centre under the control of an assistant returning officer who will have been the officer-in-charge of that polling place during the hours of polling.

Only ordinary votes (not postal, pre-poll or absentee votes) are counted at the counting centres on election night. Votes for the House of Representatives are counted before Senate ballot papers, as there is widespread community interest in the formation of government and usually considerable time before the Senate terms begin.

Furthermore, the nature of the Senate voting system means that a quota cannot be struck on polling night, so only provisional figures can be calculated from the ballot papers counted at polling places.

Ballot papers are sorted by the polling officials according to the formal first preference votes marked and the results are then tabulated and sent to the Divisional Returning Officer. Results are relayed through a computer network to the AEC's Virtual Tally Room and also to the National Tally Room in Canberra where progressive figures are displayed. Proposals to discontinue the National Tally Room have not yet eventuated. When scrutiny of ordinary votes at each counting centre ends, ballot papers are placed in sealed parcels and delivered to the Divisional Returning Officer.


Other votes are counted at the office of the Divisional Returning Officer after election night. In recent times, amendments to the electoral Act have permitted the computerised scrutiny of votes in Senate elections which has reduced the time taken to calculate results, particularly in the larger States.


Candidates may appoint scrutineers who are entitled to be present throughout the counting of votes. The number of scrutineers for a candidate at each counting centre is limited to the number of officers engaged in the counting.