A lost box of ballot papers worth just $30 will likely condemn taxpayers to a $13 million election, according to a scathing review of the WA Senate recount. Former Federal police commissioner Mick Keelty accused the WA office of the Australian Electoral Commission of having a culture of complacency that is likely to result in 1.3 million people going back to the polls next year. Mr Keelty was given the task of determining how the commission lost 1370 votes after it was asked to conduct a recount. The probe came after a very close Senate count in WA which, depending on the lost votes, could have two different candidates elected to the Upper House for the next six years. There has been an appeal in the High Court against the result, with a directions hearing to be held next week. Mr Keelty found he could not “conclusively” rule out foul play in the recount, though he suggested the votes could have been placed in wrong boxes, lost in transit or accidentally destroyed. He found the electoral commission was under more pressure, with a bigger workload, demographic changes and increased expectations for results on election night. This had led to mistakes that cumulatively could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
“When conducting an election, the size of a mistake is disproportionate to its impact,” he found. “The loss of a box of ballot papers with a market value of perhaps $30 could, in the event of High Court ordering a fresh election, have a $13 million consequence.”
Mr Keelty was particularly critical of the electoral commission’s WA office, highlighting a series of shortcomings, some of which date back to the 2010 Federal election.
Staff training was poor, a contract to transport ballots had expired before the election and votes were left unsecured and open to possible tampering. Ballots at the centre of the recount were left in open boxes, without CCTV coverage and in the custody of a single security guard, who had not been vetted for political neutrality.