Part 1: Introduction

General Election 2023: Independent review of counting errors.

In November 2023, after the General Election's official results were publicly released, a reporter queried the accuracy of party vote results at one voting place. Preliminary enquiries found errors at three voting places.1 Subsequent investigations by the Electoral Commission identified errors in the candidate vote count in 15 electorates (in total, 17 voting places) and errors in the party vote count in six electorates (in total, eight voting places). Following the Electoral Commission's internal investigation, the election results were re-certified and re-announced.

The errors identified were due to miscounts, data entry errors, and, in one instance, a ballot box that was misplaced and not counted. The quality assurance processes and checks in the official result process did not prevent or detect the errors identified. None of the errors identified at the time changed any candidate or party outcomes.

After the official result, there were three electorates where the candidate results were close. There were judicial recounts for the results of the Nelson,2 Tāmaki Makaurau,3 and Mt Albert4 electorates. Small discrepancies in the official count were noted, and different judgements were made in some informal vote assessments, but the judicial recount concluded they did not change the electorate outcome. The Electoral Commission told us that the nature and level of these changes is consistent with previous recounts, which provide an additional opportunity to mitigate the risks associated with largely manual processes.

In December 2023, the Electoral Commission asked us to review the effectiveness of its quality assurance checks for counting votes and to recommend any improvements needed. We decided to carry out an independent review and to publish our findings.

The Electoral Commission is required to report to the Minister of Justice on the operation of the 2023 General Election in May 2024. Our report is also intended to inform the Electoral Commission's review of the election.

What we looked at during this review

The terms of reference for our review were discussed with the Electoral Commission and are set out in the Appendix. Our work was limited to considering the systems and processes for counting the votes cast, to identify areas for improvement, and make recommendations for aspects of the process that could be strengthened. Our review was carried out under section 17 of the Public Audit Act 2001.

We reviewed documentation relevant to the errors to understand how and why the errors happened. We wanted to understand the controls in place and why they did not work to detect or prevent the errors.

We also looked at how the Electoral Commission responded when errors were brought to its attention and what its analysis found.

Our review also considered the governance arrangements for the election and how risks associated with the election were managed. We reviewed relevant policies and operating procedures appropriate to the scope of our review and considered whether these were followed. We reviewed the effectiveness of the Electoral Commission's risk management approach before and during the general election.

We interviewed the Chief Electoral Officer (who is also the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission), the Acting Chairperson of the Electoral Commission Board, two regional managers, eight electorate managers (representing electorates where errors were identified), and Electoral Commission personnel past and present.

We had the opportunity to observe the Port Waikato By-election vote counting and quality assurance checks on the by-election day at the Port Waikato Electorate headquarters, and at National Office that night and in the days that followed. This gave us a first-hand opportunity to observe a more limited vote count process (more limited because only candidate votes were being counted).

Our work did not include a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the programme management approach the Electoral Commission used to prepare for the 2023 General Election. We did not look at broader matters that were not, in our view, connected to the errors that occurred. We did not do extra work to investigate whether there were further errors that may have occurred. However, as a result of questions we asked, we identified other potential errors in the final results due to some apparent dual votes not being removed in keeping with instructions.

Structure of this report

In Part 2, we describe the role of the Electoral Commission, the 2023 General Election, and how it differed from previous elections.

In Part 3, we describe how votes are counted.

In Part 4, we describe the errors that were identified in the official results. We discuss the causes of the vote count errors and the broader factors that contributed to mistakes being made. We also identify areas for the Electoral Commission to strengthen its processes.

In Part 5, we describe and comment on the Electoral Commission's approach to risk management.

In Part 6, we describe steps the Electoral Commission told us it is taking to improve vote counting, quality assurance, and how results are finalised for the next election.

1: Knox, C (2023), "Election 2023: Electoral Commission reviewing voting results after Herald investigation led to discovery of three wrong counts", at

2: In Nelson there were four instances where a single ballot had been allocated to the wrong candidate in the official count, and the judge allowed a small number of votes that the Returning Officer had deemed informal and had not counted.

3: In Tāmaki Makaurau, there was a difference of eight in the vote count overall, including a slight decrease in the number of disallowed votes.

4: In Mount Albert, the judge found one vote discrepancy, which the judge attributed to human error.