1,375 votes lost in Western Australia: Ludlam recount stalled in bureaucracy



news The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has revealed it lost 1,375 votes during the recent Federal Election and will need to investigate the situation further before it can advise whether Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam will keep his Senate seat or be replaced by the Palmer United Party.

In early October, the Australian Electoral Commission announced that Ludlam had lost his seat, with candidates from the Liberal, Labor and Palmer United parties elected to the Senate from Western Australia in September’s Federal Election, despite the fact that the Greens took 9.48 percent of the initial vote and the Palmer United Party took 5 percent of the initial vote.

The news came as a blow to the Australian digital rights community, due to Ludlam’s role over the past half-decade after he was elected in 2007 increasingly coming to focus on holding powerful government departments and law enforcement bodies, politicians, corporations and other groups to account for increasing privacy rights violations and the encroachment of telecommunications surveillance in the digital age.

However, the Greens and the Australian Sports Party successfully appealed for a recount of the vote, given the very small margin in some parts of the counting (just 14 votes in one place) and the reported existence of anomalies in the count.

Earlier this week, Ludlam revealed “hundreds” of misplaced votes had been found, in a move which the tech-savvy Senator said validated his request for a recount that could see him hold onto his seat in the state.

However, today the AEC revealed the situation was even more complex. A complete recount, according to electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn, found that 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 [WA electoral officer Peter 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,” Killesteyn said in a statement. “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”.

Killesteyn added that he had 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,” said Killesteyn.

“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.”

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.

Killesteyn and Kramer thanked all the candidates and scrutineers involved with the recount for their patience, goodwill and professionalism. 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“, Killesteyn said. “A recount of this scale has not occurred since the AEC was established in 1984.”

“So now what?” asked Ludlam on Twitter this afternoon.

Image credit: David Howe, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence


  1. Electoral Voting. After a fiasco like this, they really should start properly looking at it, that way there is 100% unequivocally an audit trail for everything that is done to the vote from the person signing on to the person making the vote itself to the system calculating the totals.

    Honestly, to lose even a couple of hundred ballot papers says the system is flawed, the human element (in this case vote counting) will always cause issues, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the 3 parties (labor, liberal or PU) was the cause of this.

    • It s a fairly unique situation where by now the paper voting forms wouldn’t normally mean anything. The votes were also from one specific area so it is not likely to be a deliberate act on anyone’s behalf. As to conspiracy theories, well the contest is between the Greens and PUP at this point so any conspiracy would have to centre on those two with PUP the incumbent designate at this stage.

    • There is a distinct lack of accountability surrounding e-voting. No way for the layman to know what software is running on the electronic voting machine. For all you know, it could be fiddling with the votes internally and you would have no idea.

      • There are electronic voting mechanisms that allow you to anonymously check which way your vote was counted later on.

        It doesn’t sound possible; but it is. So it is possible to design a system that can detect vote-fudging software AND maintain anonymity.

    • Given that in the recount so far or in the missing votes there has been no indication on which way the count has been heading all up that’s been released to the public, what you’re doing is actually not what you think you’re doing. You don’t actually know whether this is good or bad news for Senator Ludlam. It could be either, unless you have some secret insider information.

      What you’re doing is literally saying that it’s god’s will and that it’s worked out for the best that WA senate votes have been lost, giving a big middle finger to the voters. You’re not saying one thing about Ludlam, you’re saying “fuck you, WA voters, it’s god’s will that your votes shouldn’t be counted”.

      You contribute nothing.

    • If this leads to a by-election that will have a clearer result, then I’ll agree with you. As it is, it’s far too early to call it. We simply don’t know when “things [will] work out for the best” as it hasn’t happened yet – ignoring any arguments about how one interprets “best”.

      • I saw one person refer to the only similar incident on record which was from 1906 and in this case the court ruled that the original tally be used. No new election.

        • Really? That’s not what I heard the process would be (i.e. the original count being considered invalid), but if there’s a precedent, then that’s likely possible. But from Senator Ludlam’s comments earlier in the week, the recount demonstrated that the original count was in significant error (in other words, justifying the recount). Now the recount is in error as well; it doesn’t however mean that the original count is no longer in error. Having the High Court decide the outcome wouldn’t exactly be democratic, so there will be calls for a by-election, but ultimately we only have an approximation to democracy here in Australia anyway. But a lot will depend on the results of the recount to be announced by the AEC. If the same winners are called, it’s going to be hard to challenge the result. If the winning margin is large enough, it’s going to be hard to challenge the result.

          What I can say for certain, though, is that it’s been a very interesting few years in politics, and it’s likely to be very interesting in the near future as well.

          • The AEC will still make a declaration. They could, for instance, elect to just use the past values from the previous count of the missing boxes (presumably they know that) and add those 1400 votes to the overall recount figures. That would seem another alternative they could use. But when it comes down to it whatever method they use there will be probably a challenge. Even if the PUP lead actually increased in the recounted votes there is mischief to be had for the greens to challenge if only in a hope there will be a new election called. I too, personally believe, such action would probably benefit the Greens prospects and would be a negative for PUP.

  2. Well we still ride Kangaroos here in WA, so I could see a few of the papers slipping out along the way… :(

    • I continue to wonder just how many West Australians have allowed their Roo registration to lapse and the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Department of Transport haven’t even followed up on it – I bet there must be thousands of unregistered Roos out there being ridden around with zero insurance cover and probably without having adequate safety checks performed recently. This Government is a debacle.

  3. Chances are there’ll be a by-election. It’d be nice to have those much-talked-about-and-nothing-done-about senate voting reforms in before then though.

    As a side-note, the AEC has a very robust system in place that they are always improving, and despite their very limited budget, they do everything in their power to ensure that everyone can vote and that every vote counts. That these ballot papers were physically lost is unfortunate, but I don’t see any criticism of the AEC as having any substance as it comes from people who have little clue about the systems in place and the process involved. What I can tell you is that everything is checked and double-checked and even triple-checked. The fact that the number of misplaced ballot papers, and from which divisions, is known, shows that the reporting systems are working well. “Bureaucracy” is not the cause of the illness here, it is its prevention. Unfortunately, things clearly were not bureaucratic enough.

      • Then what will happen? Will the original count stand? Does the recount indicate a different result that the missing ballots couldn’t change?

          • hey guys,

            just wanted to apologise; I initially didn’t understand the nuance here. There will likely be a by election, due to the lost votes. The AEC has declared Ludlam and the Sports Party candidate as the winners of the final two seats, as it had to do legally, but the Palmer United Party has already said it will challenge that result — which means it is very possible the Court of Disputed Returns will require a by election.


        • I believe the original count was considered invalid when the recount was initiated; having a recount is not simply a second count for double-checking the result, it is the replacement count. Counting finished yesterday, so we’ll find out soon, once they announce the winners. If the difference between the winners and losers in the new count is mathematically impossible to come back from (i.e. 1376 votes) the new count will probably stand, even though it is still likely to be challenged (the losers hoping to render it invalid). From previous indications having a difference that large is unlikely though, so it will likely be challenged in the High Court. The High Court will rule in a certain outcome’s favour, or order the AEC to hold a by-election. The candidates are perfectly entitled to challenge the outcome, as it is their jobs on the line (Senator Ludlam’s and Senator Pratt’s, particularly). In any case, someone’s head at the AEC is going to roll.

      • “No, they will not”? How do you know? I understand that it will not be the first move by the AEC – the High Court will make that decision. I suspect that it will lead to a by-election.

  4. According to the latest article on perthnow about it, http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/greens-mp-scott-ludlam-dont-declare-wa-poll/story-fnhocxo3-1226751130374

    “AEC spokesman Phil Diak said they had looked everywhere for the missing votes and there appeared to be little prospect they would turn up.

    In that case, there will likely be a challenge in the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns and a fresh election.”

    I smell a by-election coming for us West Aussies!

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