Why doesn’t Queensland have a new government yet?

In an era of instant gratification, why does it take so long to find out who has won the Queensland election?

Neither major party has been able to officially accept victory or concede defeat, despite Labor expecting to reach the 47 seats it needs for a majority.

The final results were expected to be known by the end of this week – almost two weeks after November 25 – but that was not unprecedented.

LNP premier Campbell Newman stuck around for two weeks as caretaker premier in 2015, after announcing his retirement when he lost his seat of Ashgrove.

As of Tuesday, the Electoral Commission of Queensland had officially declared 31 out of the 93 seats.

Assistant electoral commissioner Dermot Tiernan said the return to full preferential voting meant the count was always expected to take longer.

“More than 3.1 million Queensland voters had to number every box on the ballot paper and all those preferences have to be counted,” Mr Tiernan said.

“In seats where the race is close, preferences will be distributed after the hundreds of thousands of postal and declaration votes are sent back and people have up until 6pm [Tuesday] (the 10th day after polling day) to return them.

“That 10-day deadline is enshrined in legislation.”

Mr Tiernan said votes had to be scrutinised for formality, counted, preferences distributed and checks conducted.

“Each ballot paper is reviewed multiple times under this system – whereas before people could just vote one and the count was much quicker and simpler,” he said.

Seats like Maiwar – where Greens candidate Michael Berkman was ahead of Labor’s Ali King by just 71 votes – and the Logan-based seat of Macalister were neck-and-neck, although independent Hetty Johnston has conceded in the latter.

Mr Tiernan said the tight race meant the ECQ would wait for the outstanding votes to be returned before distributing preferences because they could make the difference to the final result.

University of Queensland Law School Professor Graeme Orr said the wait for the final result could be attributed to the Act allowing up to 10 days for postal votes and the fact absentee votes had to be transferred around the state.

And there were an unusual number of seats in this election that had three or even four-cornered contests.

“For example Maiwar – we know it’s a clear loss to LNP, but will Labor come third and elect a Green or vice versa?” Professor Orr said.

Professor Orr said it was usual to not know the exact number of seats a party had for up to a fortnight and, in 2015, there was also the threat of litigation hanging over the seat of Ferny Grove.

But he said if the Premier had not boxed herself in with her “no deals” rhetoric, she could have attempted to publicly secure Noosa independent Sandy Bolton’s pledge of confidence and supply by now as a buffer if Labor did not reach 47 seats.

Professor Orr said Queensland could mandate postal votes must be received by close of polling, as in the UK.

“But that rule was for a smaller island, when the post was several times a day,” he said.

UQ lecturer Chris Salisbury said there was a record number of candidates in the 2017 election – 15 more than the previous highest number in 1998 when One Nation featured highly, and four more seats.

Dr Salisbury agreed compulsory preferential voting could have also contributed

“This combined with a significant decline in primary vote for major parties … means minor and independent candidates gained more votes and made for tight three or four-way contests in several seats,” he said.

“This kept more candidates in the running to at least finish high enough to make distributing preferences to leading candidates a complicated matter, and a higher percentage than normal of the vote needed to be counted before this became clearer in many cases.”

Dr Salisbury said people may need to get used to waiting several weeks for the new government to be sworn-in, particularly if major parties’ primary vote share continued to fall and minor parties maintained support.

More than 87 per cent of the vote has now been counted.

What about electronic voting?

Mr Tiernan said electronic voting had only been trialled in a limited way in some states.

“The ECQ is continually looking to evolve but there are a number of important matters that would need to be addressed like online security and also regulations would have to change,” he said.

Professor Orr said internet voting was not sufficiently trustworthy.

“That leaves electronic kiosk voting, which would simplify absentee votes,” he said.

But that would mean Queensland would still have to wait on postal votes in close seats, he said.

“We could reduce the time for postal votes to arrive, say, to five working days,” Professor Orr said.

“A catch-22 given the post is not as regular as in the past.”

Dr Salisbury said there seemed to be a strong case for electronic voting, although many experts had warned against the pitfalls.

“But if we can implement ‘drive through‘ voting… then you’d like to think we could organise electronic casting of votes – making once there’s reliable NBN service to all electorates,” he said.

Asked on November 26 if Queensland should move to electronic voting to deliver a faster result, Ms Palaszczuk said it was a matter for the ECQ and “if that’s what the public is interested in”.

“I think we’ve got to respect the way that the Electoral Commission works but of course we’re always looking at ways to improve,” she said.

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