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.