Andrew Crook, Crikey
Fresh independent scrutiny of the WA Senate race has revealed a series of ballot-box anomalies that if fully investigated could see Greens Senator Scott Ludlam returned to his place on the red leather.
Analysis conducted overnight by financial modelling and Senate outcomes specialist The Original Truth Seeker shows 21 separate instances of discrepancies at booths in Western Australia divisions where the number of upper and lower house ballot papers varies by more than 10 votes.
The total number of discrepancies one way or another is 351 votes.
At the crucial ‘choke point’ in the WA count, Ludlam’s fate hinges on a 14-vote lead claimed by the Shooters and Fishers Party over the Australian Christians.
If eight votes went in the opposite direction, then Ludlam and the Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich would be elected instead of Labor’s Louise Pratt and the Palmer United Party’s Dio Wang.
According to the Truth Seeker, the gap between the two tallies should be very close, only varying by one or two when a voter has misplaced a House or Senate ballot paper after being handed both by AEC officials.
Ludlam and Dropulich have lodged a formal appeals to Australian Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn and the AEC announced on Friday morning it had deferred the declaration of the WA Senate count, originally scheduled for that day, until ‘a later date’.
Potentially even more problematically, the Truth Seeker has highlighted a ‘highly suspicious’ irregularity at Durack’s Geraldton-Waggrakine booth where only one below-the-line vote was recorded out of 1,929 votes cast when the real total should be around 50 (50 was the total in 2010).
The booth had a 5.7 per cent informal rate, compared to 2.9 per cent for Durack generally, and its Reps informal rate was very similar to the division average.
The Truth Seeker assesses the situation thus: ‘Should half of these informal ballots actually be below-the-line votes? Would this add an additional 60 ballots to the count? Will this change the result? Don’t know.’
Ludlam confirmed to Crikey on Friday morning he had appealed the Western Australian branch of the AEC decision not to order a recount.
He said he had seen the Truth Seeker’s analysis and that it had added to concerns over the count. The WA Greens have employed their own crack squad of analysts to pore over booth results.
But Ludlam said it should be the commission, not financial modellers or the party, that should investigate irregularities.
‘The truth is we shouldn’t have to be doing this. It should be a natural-justice argument; a Senate seat should not be of less consequence than a House seat,’ Ludlam told Crikey.
The AEC automatically conducts a recount of lower-house seats when the gap is less than 100 votes, but there is no equivalent mechanism in the Senate.
If the current result remains unchanged, the Greens and Labor could combine with three Palmer senators to block Abbott government legislation after July 1 next year.
However, if Ludlam ends up getting back, the Greens would have a stronger claim to the balance of power but would need another non-Palmer senator to obstruct the coalition.
In the full text of the Greens’ 12-point appeal to the AEC, obtained by Crikey, Ludlam notes that a recount was previously held after the 1980 election in WA where Noel Crichton-Browne was elected by 214 votes.
Following the recount, the margin was 560 votes, much more than the 14 votes at issue this time around. And there have been three recounts in the Victorian Legislative Council, two of which changed the result.
‘The very small margin at the critical exclusion point leaves open a real prospect of human error, and is apt to leave the community dissatisfied with a result where the option of a recount has not been taken,’ Ludlam writes.
Momentum has been building for a recount in the West with the Greens receiving backing from ideological arch-enemies including Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Kroger.
There were nine months to conduct the recount.