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Making sense of the polls

What has Happened in the WA Senate Count?

In Western Australia, three Liberals and one Labor candidate are certain of election. The initial results showed that the last two seats were being won by a second Labor candidate, and Palmer United Party (PUP). However, this was the result of a 14-vote difference between the Shooters & Fishers and the Australian Christians. If the Shooters are ahead of the Christians at the point where one of these two parties is excluded, the last two seats go to PUP and Labor, but if the Christians are ahead, these last two seats go to the Sports party and the Greens. On the initial results, the Shooters led the Christians by 14 votes at this point, leading to the election of PUP and Labor.

A request for a recount was initially denied, but this decision was reversed on appeal to the Electoral Commissioner. However, last Thursday the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced that 1,375 votes had gone missing, and could not be found. 1,255 of these votes were initially recorded as above the line ticket votes, but no party breakdown has been given.

On Saturday, the AEC carried out a new distribution of preferences in which the Christians beat the Shooters by 12 votes, but this new distribution does not include any of the 1,375 missing votes. Due to this new distribution, the Greens and Sports party are elected instead of Labor and PUP. Antony Green says that the AEC cannot legally use the original count for the missing votes, together with the recounted votes for the rest of WA; they have to use only the recounted votes.

The missing votes come from four booths in the electorates of Forrest and Pearce, but only some of the votes in the four affected booths are missing. As a result, it is difficult to calculate exactly how the Christians vs Shooters race has been affected by the missing votes. The Poll Bludger cites Ben Raue at the Tallyroom, and an anonymous poster on Truth Seeker’s Senate results blog. Ben Raue thinks the Shooters lost a net fifteen votes from the missing votes, and the anonymous poster thinks they lost thirteen net votes. If these posters are right, the Shooters would still lead the Christians by 1-3 votes once the missing votes are included. In this situation, a tie would see the Shooters eliminated on a countback.

Clearly, the results without these 1,375 votes are flawed, and will be challenged in the High Court, acting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The Court will not allow the current flawed results to stand. There are two options for the High Court. First, they can declare this election to be void; in this case a completely new Senate election would need to be held in WA. Second, the High Court could direct the AEC to include the missing votes as first counted. The Court could also issue its own rulings on challenged votes, meaning that the 1-3 vote margin in favour of the Shooters could be changed. Probably at least a 5-vote margin either way would be necessary for the Court to conclude that the Shooters had beaten the Christians, or vice versa, given that errors may have also affected the missing votes that now cannot be checked.

Since Senators elected at this year’s election will not take their place until July 2014, there is time to hold another election. If the Court does decide that another election is necessary, it will almost certainly be held under the same rules as applied at this election, with six seats to be contested. It is possible that the balance of power in the Senate could be changed by such an election.

Fairfax Recount Concluded

Clive Palmer won the seat of Fairfax by just 53 votes last Thursday, and will now take his seat in the House of Representatives. The Liberals could challenge Palmer’s victory in court, but this would undoubtedly antagonise Palmer, and the margin is probably too high to be overturned. This means that the final seat result for the House is: Coalition 90, Labor 55, Independents 2, Greens 1, PUP 1 and Katter Party 1.

When final two party figures are published, I will write a concluding article on the election.

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