Wednesday, 10 April 2019 15:03

Deakin/AEC collaboration aims to cut poll waiting times

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A team from Deakin University is working with the Australian Electoral Commission to reduce waiting times for voters.

Led by associate professor Michael Johnstone from Deakin's Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation, the project involves computer-based simulations of the queuing process at polling places.

Simulation has been a common tool for investigating queueing problems for decades.

Different options such as varying the number of servers can be explored.

The simulations are based on data collected during trials and at the 2017 Bennelong by-election.

"The data we captured during our trials and at live events were used to drive the simulation models, which enabled the AEC to make some changes, including of the way they resource polling places," said Johnstone.

"Our analysis showed instances where excessive queues could form, prompting the need for changes in resource planning for polling places. We also tested different issuing points and voting screens resource levels, looking for bottlenecks and options to improve the system.

"Other important findings focused on efficiency gains within the polling place. One example was the further examination of mini-queues within the polling place. These types of changes can be tested within the simulation models, and compared to find the most efficient option."

An example of these mini-queues occurs where people from the front of the main queue are directed to a much shorter line in front of a particular polling officer to have their names marked on the roll and to be issued with ballot papers.

The IISRI team has a three-year contract to expand its work and further improve the accuracy and range of computer-based models to assist in planning, resourcing, and delivering electoral events.

The work has the potential to improve the voting experience for millions of Australians, said Johnstone.

"Queues at polling places are unfortunately unavoidable due to variations in the arrival rates of electors, but our model can provide an estimate of queue times and behaviour, helping electoral officers to more accurately predict resource requirement for materials and personnel and to find the right balance between polling place performance and cost," he said.

"With this ongoing project, IISRI will continue working with the AEC to further develop simulation models, including capturing data at electoral events, with the aim of improving the efficiency of AEC processes and, ultimately, enhancing the election experience for voters."

Image: Kerry Raymond (CC BY 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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