There has been an extraordinary development in the Western Australian Senate count, with 1,375 votes missing and Mick Keelty, the former Federal Police Commissioner, called in to investigate.
The Australian Electoral Commission says 1,375 votes “could not be located, rechecked or verified”. The total included 120 informal votes and 1,255 formal above-the-line ballots.
The Electoral Commissioner, Ed Killesteyn, described the lost ballot papers as a “serious administrative issue”. He said he had reassured himself “that exhaustive efforts have been made to find the missing ballots at all premises where WA Senate votes were stored or moved during the 2013 federal election”.
Mick Keelty was Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police between 2001 and 2009. He has been given full access to the resources and staff of the AEC in his investigation.
The Senate recount in W.A. has seen 1.3 million ballot papers rechecked. The recount did not include below-the-line votes. The distribution of preferences is about to take place.
The prospect of a new Senate ballot in Western Australia must now be considered a strong possibility, if the lost votes are not found. The AEC will need to declare a result before a legal challenge can be mounted.
The recount was called because a 14 vote difference at a key point of preference distribution resulted in the election of Labor and Palmer United Party candidates to the final two positions, displacing the Greens and the Sports Party candidates.
Clive Palmer has called on the AEC to abandon the recount and declare the original result which saw a Palmer United Party candidate elected.
Of the missing votes, Palmer said: “The AEC may have burned them – who knows? Or put them in a rubbish bin or shredded them. How do you lose ballot papers that are supposed to be kept secure under the law? There needs to be a full judicial inquiry into the AEC officers that have been involved in this fiasco.”
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who stands to lose his seat if the original count stands, said his call for a recount was justified. He expressed confidence in the AEC but said the public’s faith in the electoral process would be jeopardised if the result is declared.
Ludlam said if the votes are not found then “we will have to take things a step at a time”.
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Statement from Australian Electoral Commission.
Australian Electoral Commission statement: WA Senate recount
Electoral Commissioner Mr. Ed Killesteyn said today the Western Australian Senate recount of votes will shortly be completed and the Australian Electoral Officer for WA, Mr Peter Kramer will shortly advise on a schedule for the distribution of preferences and declaration of the poll for newly elected Senators.
Mr Killesteyn and Mr Kramer thanked all the candidates and scrutineers involved with the recount for their patience, goodwill and professionalism. Mr Killesteyn also thanked WA AEC staff and management for their work in conducting the recount.
“The recount was a complex process involving the physical rechecking of 1.3m Senate ballot papers over more than two weeks,” Mr Killesteyn said. “A recount of this scale has not occurred since the AEC was established in 1984.”
During the recount a serious administrative issue came to light which will be subject to further investigation. Specifically, 1,375 votes – all of which had been verified during the initial WA Senate count – could not be located, rechecked or verified in the recount process. These votes were classified as 1,255 formal above-the-line ballots and 120 informal votes.
“I am advised by Mr Kramer – and I have reassured myself – that exhaustive efforts have been made to find the missing ballots at all premises where WA Senate votes were stored or moved during the 2013 federal election,” Mr Killesteyn said.
“On behalf of the AEC I apologise to the electors of Western Australia and to the candidates and parties for this failure of the AEC.”
Mr Killesteyn added that he has immediately initiated an urgent examination into the circumstances which led to the apparent misplaced ballot papers.
“I wish to advise that Mick Keelty AO APM, the distinguished former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, has agreed to undertake this task. His terms of reference include establishing the facts regarding the misplaced ballot papers, and identifying any administrative process and/or procedural failures that may have occurred as well as providing recommendations to avoid similar issues in the future.
“I wish to stress that Mr Keelty will undertake this investigation independently of the AEC and will be able to avail himself of whatever resources and access staff and information he may require to assist his examination of this matter.”
Mr Killesteyn said he had requested a report urgently. The report will be considered by the full Electoral Commission, who will determine further actions after due consideration of the report’s findings and recommendations. The Electoral Commission is a three person body, including the Electoral Commissioner, which has certain legislative powers defined in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
Mr Killesteyn said that in concert with the investigation, the Electoral Commission would closely examine the Senate outcome in Western Australia and consider whether any petition to the Court of Disputed Returns is necessary. A time period of forty days is available from the return of the Senate writ for Western Australia for petition.
Statement from Clive Palmer.
AEC Should Declare Recount Invalid After WA Debacle: Clive Palmer
Palmer United Party federal leader Clive Palmer has demanded the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) declare the recount of the Senate vote in Western Australia invalid after its latest debacle in losing more than a thousand votes.
Mr. Palmer said the admission from the AEC Commissioner or a “serious administrative issue” where 1,375 votes went “missing” was just another example of the incompetent and fraudulent conduct of the AEC.
“How do you manage to lose that many votes and will somebody take responsibility for this fiasco and fall on their sword?” Mr. Palmer said.
“The AEC has just become a joke and a fraud with some of the mistakes that have been made during the 2013 federal election counting.
“The recount in WA should be declared invalid and the original result restored as it was the only one which has every ballot counted.”
Media release from Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.
AEC must delay declaring Senate result until investigation into missing votes completed
Greens Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam has urged the Australian Electoral Commission to delay declaring the result of a recount of the WA Senate vote until an investigation is completed into 1,375 votes that have gone missing from the original count.
The AEC is proposing declare the Senate result on Monday despite announcing today that the missing votes that had been verified during the initial WA Senate count could not be located, rechecked or verified in the recount process.
It is understood that the missing ballots, which were classified in the initial count as 1,255 formal above-the-line ballots and 120 informal votes, are from booths in the divisions of Pearce and Forrest.
“This is hugely disappointing for all parties involved in what has been an extraordinary recount,” Senator Ludlam said.
“The AEC should put off declaring a result until those votes can be found.
“We do know that the AEC is legally able to delay making the announcement and in the Greens’ view, it would be inappropriate for it to declare the result while the investigation into the missing ballots is underway.
“I add that this situation further highlights the fact that a recount was justified; in the past few weeks since the recount began, our scrutineers have found hundreds of votes in the wrong pile.”