Wentworth – wait just a minute


EDIT 6:44PM: We’ve now got new figures for both Bellevue Hill and Bondi Beach. In both cases we saw the preference flow to Kerryn Phelps increase significantly, and between the two of them Phelps’ 2CP lead has increased by almost 1000 votes. It now looks very unlikely that extra postal votes will put Dave Sharma in front.

EDIT 9:31AM: We now have the first batch of postal votes – about 5,463 votes. Dave Sharma is winning 64.4% of them after preferences. This suggests he is roughly polling enough in the postal vote to have a chance of winning – the big question is how many postal votes are left to be counted, and whether adjustments in the election-day vote might give Phelps some breathing room. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t factor in informal postal votes when calculating Sharma’s threshold to win, up from 63% to 63.6%.

ORIGINAL POST: Since I posted last night, we had some shifts in the count following the inclusion of pre-poll votes. In short, it is no longer certain Kerryn Phelps will win. We are awaiting the results of the postal votes, which could see Dave Sharma win if he does well. On the other hand, there’s also reason to suspect a counting error in two booths which may be underestimated Phelps’ vote.

I’ll run through both of these issues in this post, and try and briefly explain why I think we had problems predicting this result last night.

Firstly, let’s look at the pre-poll votes. When I clocked off last night we had received the final figures from all 35 ordinary election-day booths, and Phelps was leading on 54.4% of the two-candidate-preferred count.

Then later last night we received the figures from the four pre-poll centres. Phelps won majorities (comfortable but not massive) in Haymarket and Paddington and barely scraped by in Waverley. Sharma won big at the Rose Bay prepoll centre, which was one of the biggest. This produced an overall result of Sharma 55.1% in the pre-poll vote, 9.5% better than he did on election day.

So, the postal votes. According to the AEC they have sent out just under 12,900 postal vote applications. But not all of these will be actual votes – some of these people will have used a different method to vote. At the Bennelong by-election, 77% of PVAs turned into actual postal votes, which translates to almost 10,000 votes.

If there are 10,000 postal votes remaining, and no others (in reality there could be maybe 400 provisional and absent pre-poll votes to be counted as well), then Sharma would need 63% of those votes to win.

Could that happen? That would be 8% better than he did on pre-polls, and 17% better than on election day. It seems hard, but the pre-poll trend does give weight to the theory that Phelps gained ground in the final days of the campaign, in which case you’d also expect her to do badly on postal votes. Another theory for the gap between the election-day and pre-poll vote could be orthodox Jewish voters choosing to avoid voting on Saturday, which would also play out in the postal vote. The Liberal Party generally does better on postal votes, and major parties tend to have better machinery for getting out the postal vote.

And then there’s the second wrinkle.

Kevin Bonham last night noticed that, when you plot the two-candidate-preferred vote against the primary vote for Kerryn Phelps, there are two booths where the 2CP is much lower than you would expect.

I’ve calculated how much of the vote from the 14 other candidates flowed to Phelps over Sharma at each booth and compared it to her primary vote to produce this chart:

Those two booths stand out pretty clearly. Vaucluse also has a surprisingly low preference flow, but it’s also her worst booth on primary votes. It’s also a place where Labor and Greens made up a relatively low share of the vote flowing as preferences. So while I think Vaucluse is worth checking, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong.

Bondi Beach seems like a particular concern. 79% of non-Phelps-Sharma votes were from Labor or the Greens, yet only 57% of preferences flowed to Phelps.

If you adjust Phelps’ preference flow to 80% in Bondi Beach and 70% in Bellevue Hill, she would gain 426 votes, and Sharma would lose those same votes. This shift would increase the proportion of the postal votes needed for Sharma to 67%, which seems a lot more difficult.

I think it’s also interesting to dwell on why we had this problem. Pretty much everyone agreed on calling the result (indeed I was about half an hour later than some others), but I don’t think we had the sufficient data to do so. Normally we rely on matching booth swings to previous election results, but we didn’t have any past 2CP data for Phelps. Despite some references to a “projected” 2CP, the 2CP figure was just the raw data from the booths reporting so far.

So while Phelps did well early on, and has clearly gained a tremendous swing, we didn’t really have any way to judge whether the trend was high enough to stay in majority territory, and we still don’t really.

There may also have been some unique factors around the Rose Bay booth, which did not exist in 2016. There was no local prepoll booth in the harbourfront area in 2016, and it appears that this pre-poll booth locked up quite a lot of Sharma’s strong harbourfront voter base.

I’ll keep following this story and keep you updated with edits to this post.

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  1. I think William underestimated the number of postals, which those “in the know” suggested will be 11,000. If so, then Sharma needs 61.8% in the postals to draw level, or 64.x% if the number of postals is as low as Bludger thinks.
    Neither is impossible.
    The word in the Phelps Tally Room last night (if you could hear them) was that 11,000 postals were likely to be received. This was the basis of my saying about 62% were needed for Sharma to dead-heat
    As I understand the process all ballots were returned to a single counting house in the wee small hours and that the recount will start at about 11 AM this morning

    On the question of errors, people may have noticed that at least one booth (cannot now remember) was at least an hour behind every other booth. The Phelps scrutineers said the counting was a “total mess”, with three attempts at a reconciliation producing three different results – so they just reported what they had

  2. Sharma won’t win, The Pre-Polls are likely to flow to her since most were done a week-few days before when the HIV thing came out which hurt the Liberals

  3. I think the batch of postals that’s already been counted will be stronger for Sharma than the ones arriving through the week. Those are the votes from earlier in the campaign.

    It’s very possible that Sharma will take the lead, only for those counting errors to be reconciled and Phelps to win.

    However even if Phelps loses, she will almost certainly recontest in 2019, and the fact that she came so close to winning this time puts her in a good position.

  4. Daniel, the pre-polls are already counted and have been incorporated into the totals. The outstanding votes at the moment are the postals, absentees and declaration votes. The postals have 10 days to arrive and that is very much up to Australia Post.

    There were 12,788 postal votes issued, so if we look at the normal return rate of 85 percent we’re at around 11,000 postals in total. 5,197 have already been counted, so that’s around 5,800 still to wander through.

    If there are counting errors from Bellevue Hill then the difference is likely to be less than 300 votes based on Sharma’s primary. I’d be interested in seeing what the exhaustion rate was from Labor and The Greens.

  5. no exhaustion as must number all squares bar 1… there are potential counting errors suggestion were allocated to Shamra in error 450 to 500 so Phelps plus 450 and Shamra minus 450 a turn round of 900

  6. The challengers like Dr Phelps needed to claw back the 17.7% Liberal margin from the last election in the first place. This has been done and while the contest between Phelps and Sharma is closer today (Sunday) the vote against the Liberals is dramatic. This incidentally is not the fault of Sharma but his party as a whole.

    Sharma being a former ambassador to a small middle eastern country does not hold much noteworthiness with me either nor with Wentworth voters it would appear. Alexander Downer was a diplomat and later Foreign Minister and he was a dud and a war monger. The embassy move proposal from Tel Aviv to occupied Palestine did not helped the Liberal either.

  7. There seem to be, elsewhere, an opinon that Phelps can dig in in Wentorth, much like McGowan dug in in Indi (lot of ‘in’s there).

    That might be the case, but to me its just as easy to imagine a 2% swing back to the Liberals as some people who wanted to scare Morrison return to their normal voting pattern.

    We will see what happens, but the Liberals of Wentworth are not Sophie Mirabella.

  8. The AEC has 5463 postal votes counted (as at Sunday 4:30 pm) with 2977 going to Sharma and 892 to Phelps however the preference of the other candidates has to be factored in. Phelps is still ahead though.

  9. Andrew only guessing but she maybe like Ted Mack in North Sydney and whoever defeats Abbott in Warringah entrenched as people see the independent gives them some choice as opposed to the liberal who will maybe take the seat for granted

  10. If 85% of the 12.788 PVAs will be returned with valid votes and they will have the same 64% LIB / rest IND as the 5463 counted, then (incorporating the Bellevue Hill recount) Sharma will end up, according to my maths with a 349 votes majority. If the return will be only 75% IND would have a 9 (nine) vote majority. Above it says, there might be changes from the Bondi booth, which I have not considered.

  11. Thanks Ben for writing your article in the Guardian explaining the voting process as it was becoming tiresome reading people reacting with surprise that the result was changing on the postal and prepolls even though I don’t think the result will change because Dr Phelps has maintained a solid lead.

  12. That wont be the case Peter since it is likely 1/3 or so of the postals were done later in the campaign and those Postals wont flow as strongly to the liberals, Factoring in all this i think Phelps gets over the line only just, you cannot take back a concession speech

  13. Situation as at end of Sunday night –

    – Phelps has a 1616 vote lead.
    – To overtake Phelps, Dave Sharma needs to win approximately 70-75% of the outstanding postal votes. He won 64% of the ones counted on Sunday morning and 60% of them counted on Sunday night.

    It will be very close but Phelps is a slight favourite.

  14. If a post appears here from me asserting more postals have put it beyond doubt, that is WRONG

    Sorry – Juniors moment akin to what happened at Bellevue Hill

  15. Bad Booths

    The tachycardia which gripped so many of us on Sunday morning when the pre-poll and postal numbers were revealed could possibly have been prevented.

    It was not clear at the “perceived” close of counting on Saturday night that the pre-polls were to be counted that night. It was certainly not clear to me that the AEC were going to stay up all night and count postals- but that must have been what happened. We left the Phelps event at about 22:30 when it seemed that Pre-polls and Postals were not going to be counted – but we all worried about it on the way home. As it turned out, most of the pre-polls showed up by about 23:45. That set the hares running. Scott Morrison’s media conference on Sunday morning had the hares BOLTING – and we despatched scrutineers poste haste to Alexandria. The LIBs despatched “their most skilled scrutineers” also.

    This wouldn’t have mattered, had there not been two aberrant booths in the Saturday night count. It was clear to me by about 9 PM that there was something horribly wrong at Bellevue Hill because of the delayed appearance of its figures. I speculated that it had been struck by lightning – our counting venue was! I had no hint of a similar problem at Bondi Beach, even though it was literally just over the road from us.

    When the Bellevue Hill scrutineer arrived back at North Bondi (at about 10PM), she described the scene in the booth as “a mess”. To cut a long story short, when reconciling the number of papers issued with the number of papers in the ballot boxes, there was a discrepancy. There often is- the missing ballots are sometimes found in the garbage bins. There is usually an ARO delegated to watch over such things but, according to a couple of ex-ROs I spoke to yesterday, it is a difficult thing to catch. Furthermore, procedures were changed a few years ago to prohibit the AROs from scrounging through the rubbish to find the missing ballots. In consequence, ROs now have an increased “margin of error” figure in the reconciliation. This allows them to submit figures to the DRO with such “errors”.
    Just the same, at Bellevue Hill, three attempts were made at reconciliation and each produced a different result for the discrepancy. I have no information as to what these three figures were nor whether any of these were within the margin of error.

    While this was not the cause of the incorrect TCP figures, it was mostly certainly the context and atmosphere in which it occurred.

    It would be folly to point fingers—and nobody is—but there are issues with
    • the AEC’s training of RO/ AROs and
    • candidates’ training of scrutineers.
    ROs/AROs. These are all drawn from a pool of people who volunteer for Election Night duties (The DROs are permanent AEC staff). Some ARO/ROs are experienced, some are not. The training for newcomers sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, according to the old hands. Even old hands have to catch up with the latest, and frequent, changes to the procedures.

    Anybody who has scrutineered will have memories of the spectrum of skills displayed by AROs and even ROs – from the astonishingly competent to the astonishingly incompetent. With the latter, arguments frequently break out between the RO and skilled/ experience scrutineers. I have no information whatsoever on any such issues at Bellevue Hill, however.

    Scrutineers. As with the AEC, scrutineers display a wide spectrum of skills and experience. A local ALP scrutineer in my area has been doing it for 60 years! In the case of the Phelps campaign, with its very short lead time, the value of scrutineering and of polling place procedures in general was, to some extent, lacking. Some experienced people from the Northern Beaches area more or less parachuted themselves into Wentworth early in the last week. This seems to have been appreciated by the Phelps campaign team. I didn’t join as a number-cruncher until late on Thursday. So, there was scant time to upskill booth workers and scrutineers.

    One problem facing the campaign related to preferencing for the TCP. It was NOT a foregone conclusion that the TCP count would be LIB:IND. In the end, this that is what happened, but it was not revealed until just after 6PM – this is normal practice to stop the horses bolting.

    So … we perceived that the scrutineering task could be to watch the flows from the three candidates who might contribute significantly to a TCP for Phelps – ALP, GRN, Heath. Tallysheets were made up for these but we did not adequately train the Booth Captains on how to fill them out. The procedure was for the Scrutineer to photograph their tally sheets and text the image to us. These were then to be dictated to me to enter into a preference flow spreadsheet. As too-often happens, this went very pear-shaped amidst the hubbub of North Bondi Surf Club. The back-up was for the scrutineers to bring their hard copies to North Bondi. I don’t think we got all of these.

    As soon as we knew that it was a Phelps/Sharma TCP, we perceived that the importance of these procedures would considerably lessened.


    Additionally, our briefing notes for scrutineers and the lack of a training workshop, made many bewildered as to what it was we were asking of them.
    The Handbook for Scrutineers has recently been updated. It is a 70-page document which no scrutineer is going to memorise nor carry into a booth. It is nowhere near common knowledge, but scrutineers are allowed to countersign the RO’s record sheets which summarise the contents of the “parcels” – essentially confirming that there are no errors. I doubt that this is often done.

    The particular error that occurred at Bellevue Hill was said to be an understandable transcription error, which I take to mean that it occurred at the time the RO submitted the numbers to the DRO. If so, the scrutineers would be very unlikely to pick it up (in the past, ROs used to phone them it, but I am sure that doesn’t happen now). If, however, the transcription error occurred when filling out the paper form, then that IS potentially something a skilled scrutineer would pick up. I assume the LIBs and ALP—at least—also had skilled scrutineers at that booth. If so, they didn’t pick up the error either.

    For the record, the two versions of the Bellevue Hill count are below

    TCP Primaries
    Midnight Sat 1305 985 2290 2290 10 169 13 4 193 5 2 13 1041 35 15 10 30 7 731 12
    7PM Sun 1152 1119 2271 2271 10 169 12 3 192 5 2 13 1032 36 15 10 29 7 724 12
    Change -153 134 -19 -19 0 0 -1 -1 -1 0 0 0 -9 1 0 0 -1 0 -7 0

    Of the 19 “lost” votes, nine were lost by Sharma and 7 were lost by Phelps.

  16. TCP vs Primary chart

    This is an interesting “new” tool that should prove useful in future. I wish I’d thought of that when wresting with the mysteries of Bellevue Hill on Saturday Night.

    The outliers have gone of course

    It was fascinating to do the same for Sharma – a P<0.05 straight line with an R-sq of 0.96.

    Not sure what to make of that – possibly that Sharma-preferencers are convinced, whereas the Phelps-preferencers are a bit more wobbly

  17. I have been floating with an ex-NSWEC IT person that the two errors on Saturday night might have occurred because the OIC did a TPP instead of a TCP.

    He doesn’t think it likely, as the OIC would have received the TCP info about mid-week, but also says the quality of ROs continues to decline.

    A test might be looking at the TPPs when they eventually get around to doing it after the declaration

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