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Computer simulation addresses issue on election queue

Queueing is a very frustrating experience and often considered to be a waste of time, and Election Day is not an exception.

According to a recent report, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is working with researchers to develop a mathematical model that will improve things for Australians as they fulfil their right and duty as a citizen to vote.

There are 80,000 hired staff and about 8,000 polling places, which can really be an intense logistical activity.

If there are an estimated 11 million people who are coming in one day, the issue of queueing cannot be avoided. Unfortunately, these 11 million people all have different tolerance levels for lining up.

How does it work?

The Commission is working with researchers from Deakin University to help them improve the way polling places are laid out and how the personnel are allocated in order to keep the lines moving.

The researchers created a simulated polling place on campus, and timed people filling out ballots and issuing votes.

The data gathered was then compared with real-world measurements from the Bennelong by-election in 2017.

After which, it was fed into a computer model that allowed them to test how small changes and different scenarios would affect queue lengths.

As reported, the model provides an estimate of queue times and behaviour that can assist electoral officers to accurately predict resource requirement for materials and staff.

Changes on Election Day

As a result of this, voters may look forward to seeing more voting screens, more staff issuing ballot papers in busy periods, and even “mini-queues” that are all designed to reduce wasted time in polling places.

Instead of having one long line at the door of the local school hall or church, voters will be directed into shorter queues that are closer to polling clerks.

According to the Commission, the data-analysis and adjustment to election planning parameters has the potential to reduce queues, better manage ballot paper stocks and improve the working hours of polling officials.

They have awarded a three-year contract to the University’s researchers in order to continue expanding their work and improve the accuracy of their simulations.

It’s not as bad as it seems

While wait times are a common complaint, the Commission insists things are not as bad as the headlines are saying.

During the last election about 75% of the voters were in and out of their polling place within 15 minutes, which seems to be an acceptable waiting period.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of those that had to wait longer were complete and done within half an hour.

Steps are being done to manage the queues well but it is expected that with paper-based ballots, there will always be lines involved.

Upon surveying people, the Commission learned that 20% of the people can only tolerate waiting in line for five minutes. There seems to be less tolerance now for queueing as compared to many years ago.


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