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Oct 4, 2013

WA Senate drama: ballot-box anomalies boost Ludlam’s fight

Independent analysis of the WA Senate count shows irregularities that, if fully investigated, could return the Greens' Scott Ludlam. As it stands, he will lose his seat on the red leather.

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 over 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 this morning it had deferred the declaration of the WA Senate count, originally scheduled for 11:30am Perth time, 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 1929 votes cast when the real total should be around 50 (50 was the total in 2010). The booth had a 5.7% informal rate, compared to 2.9% 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 this morning he had appealed the Western Australian branch of the AEC 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 yesterday from ideological arch-enemies including Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Kroger. There were nine months to conduct the recount, Kroger said.

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14 thoughts on “WA Senate drama: ballot-box anomalies boost Ludlam’s fight

  1. klewso

    Considering some of these “anomalies” as are being found now, I reckon Palmer’s on to something, when he was pointing to discrepancies in his seat (how could you have a couple of hundred votes cast for one house more than the other)?
    How widespread have they been?

  2. William Bowe

    There was no instance of “a couple of hundred votes cast for one house more than the other” in Fairfax. The discrepancy Palmer was referring to was down to a polling booth result being entered into the system as a different booth. No doubt there have been errors in the count in Western Australia, given that much of the Senate count was conducted before it became apparent that the result would be decided by 15 votes and the need for careful scrutineering was not appreciated.

  3. Rob Rourke

    Well Bill it still doesn’t give one a warm and fuzzy feeling to think that the people employed to oversee who is elected to lead the country need to be carefully scrutinizing the ballot papers only if it is a close election.

  4. Edward James

    Yep why would they not carefully count every vote. After all while we all get to vote as a right of passage the value we put on our vote is the value we put on ourselves as people. Edward James

  5. Kevin Bonham

    There have been suggestions on the Truth Seeker blog in comments that discarded/missing votes (ballots either binned by the voter or removed by them from the polling place) could account for a lot of the House/Senate discrepancies. I don’t know what the usual size of these issues is and haven’t found any ready data on them.

    There are however two booths found by TS where the House/Senate discrepancy is 50 votes. In one case it seems that the House of Assembly informal vote is way higher than it should be. In the other I have found nothing obvious wrong with the House votes yet.

    Posting comments on this whole post-count situation at

  6. Bort

    If someone misses out by 14 votes, there’s “anomalies” and a recount is refused, then we’ve got some real problems with democracy in this country.

  7. Malcolm Street

    Rob – that’s why the parties have scrutineers observing the process.

  8. Elvis

    I am sure we can all understand that there can be some human error when counting 1.3 million complicated ballots.

    What I can’t understand, however, is how the AEC could decide to reject the recount request when the margin is as slim as 14? Shouldn’t they have determined themselves that a recount was required before it had to be requested? Isn’t that pretty obvious?

  9. myra raser

    Replying to William Bowe, I have been involved in vote counting at numerous elections and it is always very carefully done with numerous checks so I don’t think it would have been done lazily just because no one knew how close it would be. That said, with this close a count ofcourse their should be a recount. Personally I’d like to revote and put Scott as my number 1 instead of number 2 because it never occured to me he wouldnt get back in! Maybe if that 16th of a vote, or owe err much it is, would have made a difference. 🙁 Anyway, I voted in Western Australia and was told, and heard other people being told, by the people handing out ballots, that we should just vote above the line as its easier on everyone. Does anyone know if there is a body I can feed that info back to- as that REALLY shouldn’t be happenning!

  10. Toc Foale

    As a Greens member and dedicated hander out of how to vote cards, I always suggest to people they chose their own preferences. There are still people fighting and dieing for the right to vote. It seems such a minor thing, to do it well when you already have that right.