In Australian Senate elections, why isn't the quota recalculated based on exhausted votes after each count?

In order to make sure the 2010 election was what I remembered it, I reviewed the AEC full distribution count for NSW Senate seats[1]. I noticed that between counts the

quota = (valid votes / (positions + 1)) + 1

isn't recalculated despite exhaustion.

  1. Does Australian law require the quota be recounted when votes are exhausted?
  2. Does simplifying quota calculation make counting much easier?
  3. Is there a case where failure to recalculate quota will result in elected candidates returned being different?

    [1] http://results.aec.gov.au/15508/Website/External/SenateStateDop-15508-NSW.pdf (450kb, 60 pages)

  • 2
    Questions about "should", "ought to", "is it right/moral" aren't good fits for the Stack exchange Q&A format. You might want to rephrase. Additionally, if you reviewed the AEC full distribution counts, you kubricka want to link to them.
    – user1873
    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:12
  • 1
    That wording is awkward, "Does Australian law require the quota be recounted when exhausted?" Its current wording makes it difficult to tell what, precisely by Australian law, "it"s state of being should be.
    – user1873
    Aug 20, 2013 at 5:22
  • My understanding (possibly wrong) is that all preferences need to be filled out for a senate ballot to be formal, so by definition there can't be any exhaustion of ballot papers Aug 22, 2013 at 3:31
  • 1
    See the Actual Count (NSW 2010), Count 2: Exhausted votes 8; Count 271: Exhausted votes 1,462 Aug 22, 2013 at 6:40

1 Answer 1


The quota is not recalculated for the following reasons:

1) vote exhaustion comprises such a tiny fraction of a percentage of the total votes that it is unlikely that, should those votes have flowed on, the result would differ.

2) recalculating the quota would result in either:

a) a disadvantage to candidates excluded earlier in the counting if the recalculated quota was not applied to counts prior to the vote exhaustion.

b) a recalculated quota applied to counts prior to the vote exhaustion potentially resulting in the votes not being exhausted in the first place (depending on the reason for the exhaustion).

Now on to your actual questions:

1) There is nothing in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 which specifies the counting method, though there are sections on what constitutes a formal vote.

2) It's less a matter of easier than it is a matter of fairer. See above for some reasons why recalculating the quota could lead to unfair or conflicting results. Thus quotas are never recalculated between counts, but the actual quota can only be determined when the total number of formal votes is known. Before then the AEC may publish a "provisional quota" which gives people an idea of what the quota may be, but it is not the official quota.

3) Again, see above, it is theoretically possible depending on what might happen with a recalculated quota determined by vote exhaustion.

And from the comments: KJ, a below the line ballot may still be counted if 90% or more of it is completed with three errors or less (and here's the tweet that proves it, full details are here with examples). If the AEC can determine that much of the ballot they will attempt to count the vote.

  • 2
    Just noting that quota exhaustion is a much bigger factor now after the senate voting reforms. Jan 28, 2017 at 23:27
  • 1
    That's a very good point, it might be worth reviewing the precise differences those reforms make to answering this question again when I've got time.
    – Ben
    Feb 21, 2017 at 8:08

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