Peter Gardiner takes a look into what went wrong with the council election tallies throughout Queensland.
Peter Gardiner takes a look into what went wrong with the council election tallies throughout Queensland.

EPIC FAIL: How could the ECQ muck election up ... again?

OPINION

IF BULK paranoia at the polling booths instilled by coronavirus was not enough to stretch the already frayed nerves of voters, along came the double whammy of the Electoral Commission of Queensland's Clayton's count.

You know, the much-touted online tally you have when you're not having a tally.

Well to be fair to the all the hardworking returning officers and the tally workers, it seems they were on the ball, but once again the sadistically slow ECQ software left most political observers and frustrated candidates clueless for much of Saturday night.

And from there, things seemed to just go from a shambolic shocker to diabolically worse.

At my electoral patch in Noosa, one frazzled candidate after days of ECQ tally torture declared, not victory, but the fact she'd rather watch the grass grow than stare at an online tally chart that would not be moved - well not by much any way.

Lorraine Thomas after voting ain the Toowoomba Regional Council local government election day with extra caution.
Lorraine Thomas after voting ain the Toowoomba Regional Council local government election day with extra caution.

Over in the Garden City, nothing was coming up roses for anyone wanting an answer to the election enigma that was the ECQ online updates.

Toowoomba Regional Council candidates were screaming "please bloody well explain!" through gritted teeth as the vote count on the ECQ website actually dropped to 5.76 per cent during the week, which had been the only movement since early on Monday.

Cr Nancy Sommerfield fumed: "Currently the same 6 per cent data on the @toowoombaregion council elections as there was 24 hours ago. I've seen more recent data but been told I can't publish it until it goes on the ECQ website."

Queensland's electoral commissioner Pat Vidgen well may have labelled the ongoing glitches as "unacceptable", but anyone around in 2016 would have been suffering severe flashback to the last ECQ tally slow-burn that had our blood-boiling.

Mr Vigden said more than 1,000,000 votes were counted last Saturday, but a "data feed" meant votes were not uploaded to the website in real-time.

"We're very disappointed with that outcome. The counting happened and the counting was accurate.

"We contacted all candidates and scrutineers and allowed them into the booths … so they could at least see what was happening."

It's a pity they the ECQ did not get really inventive, splash out and livestream these tallies to allow us all in on the counting action - a logistic nightmare for them you might say, but don't they deserve some of our pain?

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was "pretty disappointed" by the bungle and is promising yet another review like the 2016 post-polling stuff up study.

. LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam.
. LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam.

Local Government Association Chief Executive Officer Greg Hallam agrees this 2020 count leaves much to be desired:

"We need to have a thorough review, an independent one. Clearly there are issues," he said.

Mr Hallam said councils used to run their own elections through the chief executive officers.

"It was very efficient, a lot cheaper, a lot quicker, but that hasn't been the case since 2004.

"That capability was bred into us, I was one of those people, but it no longer exists. We'd have to go hire professional polling persons."

He said the "old school" generation of CEOs with the election expertise of having run at least two elections has all gone now.

Mr Hallam said he seriously doubted whether the State Government would consider going back there. Noosa Council CEO Brett de Chastel agreed.

"Unfortunately this election hasn't gone smoothly," he said.

"The bottom line is, at the moment, the State Government has legislated that the ECQ is the only body that can run the election.

"There is a strong argument that having an independent body like that is a positive thing to keep it at arms-length.

Noosa Council CEO Brett de Chastel
Noosa Council CEO Brett de Chastel

"The issue is of course no matter who runs the election, whether it's the ECQ or council, it needs to be run smoothly and to have up-to-date information for the community as soon as it's available," Mr de Chastel said.

Mr de Chastel said after the last election the State Government had an independent inquiry headed up by former Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorely that looked at the performance of the ECQ and found it wanting and made a whole range of recommendations. Whatever they tried it's another epic fail.

An excerpt from the findings of that review said: "One of the biggest problem areas for the 2016 elections was ICT. The ECQ relies heavily on technology to conduct elections but does not have a permanent and full-time Chief Information Officer. There is an urgent need for the ECQ to invest in technology, including appropriately qualified and experienced personnel."

Back to 2020 last week, one thing that did flow for all the voters who did venture out to a polling booth was the line-up, 1.5m spaced apart, to vote ... at last while I was there.

For many the rush to pre-poll meant little waiting and even no delays, just a squirt of hand sanitiser, a flourish of your own pencil, and you were off in a tick with not a vote touter in sight, shoving how-to-vote cards (possibly laced with coronavirus) in your face.

It's a pity after 6pm Saturday that everything started to go to hell.

And the grim reality is, it's not over by a long shot thanks to the ridiculous amount of postals sparked mostly by the fear of coronavirus contamination at the booths.

Mr Hallam sadly has this to offer: "The last day for postals to come in is Tuesday the 7th of April, it doesn't automatically follow that they declare the next day.

'What they'll probably do then, when all the postals are in, they'll probably do a full preference allocation.

"It (the poll declaration) may or may not be before Easter."

However for most of the struggling candidates, by then it will be far too late for any political second coming.