After a lengthy investigation, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has lambasted the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for the fiasco in the 2016 federal election when a Senate scanning system – designed to capture voter preferences from ballot papers – largely failed, requiring a full manual recount that took many days and increased costs by as much as $8.6 million.

It accuses the commission of failing to achieve value for money, and of accepting IT security risks above its usual tolerance.

The AEC paid Fuji Xerox a total of $37.2 million to develop and deliver the Senate ballot paper scanning system. Fuji Xerox was the only supplier asked to quote.

Despite the millions handed over, the ANAO said the AEC “did not own the intellectual or physical property that would result from this expenditure”, and the eventual cost included a $4.1 million “contribution” for equipment and infrastructure needed to scan the ballots.

The report adds: “The AEC has not demonstrably achieved value for money in its procurement of Senate scanning services. It has not used competitive pressure to drive value, nor given due consideration to costs in its procurement decision-making.”

In reply, Fuji Xerox has pointed to the “very tight” three-month window that resulted in the changes in Senate voting. “Fuji Xerox believes that the solution provided …was a world-first in regards to technical and operational delivery in a very tight design, development and implementation timeframe,” it  says.

The AEC has also hit back at the ANAO report, with electoral commissioner Tom Rogers saying the Fuji Xerox solution was an “impressive accomplishment” against the backdrop of Senate voting changes.

“”In the extraordinarily short period of three months, and without prior warning, the AEC successfully developed and then implemented a robust, effective, technologically-advanced and entirely new system for counting, under high levels of scrutiny, some 15 million Senate votes in multiple locations around Australia,” Rogers said.