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‘Criminal’ activity behind 23 rejected city council votes

UPDATED: The SA Electoral Commissioner says a crime has been committed in the Adelaide City Council election which affected 23 votes, but the results of an ongoing investigation are still several months away.

Nov 14, 2022, updated Nov 17, 2022
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Electoral Commission of SA (ECSA) over the weekend rejected 23 Adelaide City Council central ward ballots, after it found they were not returned by the residents whose names were attached to the voting slips.

The ballots came from four apartment buildings in the Adelaide City Council central ward, where a vote harvesting scam targeting international students is alleged to have taken place.

According to provisionally-elected Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith, “possible intervention” may have resulted in voting packs not reaching some residents of those buildings.

ECSA has not yet opened the declaration envelopes to see which candidate the rejected ballots preferenced.

Asked on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning whether someone had committed a crime, SA Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry said: “That’s right.”

He said electoral staff checked signatures against enrolment forms and phoned electors to determine whether they were valid.

“We did have a number of people we called who said they didn’t vote,” Sherry said.

“We subsequently held 23 of those ballots out of the count because we weren’t satisfied that they were valid and they subsequently weren’t in the count.

“We put all the measures in place within the confines of the legislation to ensure the integrity of the election based on the information we had at hand at the time.”

Sherry said ECSA did not know who was behind the alleged crime, with an ongoing investigation underway.

“These are quite serious allegations, so we have people currently investigating,” he said.

“Those investigations, I expect, might take probably several months based on the information they’re likely to require to try and understand what’s happened here.”

ECSA resumed ballot counting this morning, after weather conditions caused delays over the weekend.

It confirmed on Saturday night Lomax-Smith as the provisional winner of the Lord Mayoral race, with the former Rann Government Minister defeating opponent Rex Patrick by a razor-thin margin of 52 votes after preferences.

Patrick has since said he is considering whether to dispute the validity of the election in the Court of Disputed Returns.

Table: ECSA

Results for the four central ward seats are yet to be formally declared, but ECSA’s latest update shows federal public servant Jing Li is in front with 511 first preference votes, followed by Australian Institute of Conveyancers SA CEO Carmel Noon on 467 votes.

On first preferences, incumbent councillors Simon Hou and Alexander Hyde are next in line with 356 and 341 respective votes.

Table: ECSA

In the north ward, incumbent councillors Phil Martin and Mary Couros have been provisionally re-elected, comfortably shrugging off a challenge by former councillor Sandy Wilkinson.

Table: ECSA

At the opposite end of the city, incumbent councillor Keiran Snape declared he had won one of two south ward seats, posting on Facebook that he had “gotten a quota outright”.

ECSA’s latest update shows him comfortably leading with 758 first preference votes, ahead of second-placed retailer Colette Slight on 277 votes and third-placed sustainability consultant Mark Siebentritt on 275 votes.

Table: ECSA

Long-term councillor Anne Moran has conceded defeat in the area ward contest, with incumbent councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh and former union boss Janet Giles snagging the two remaining city council seats.

Table: ECSA

Meanwhile, Sherry said 363 votes were excluded from the Marion Council election, after ECSA staff identified they had “very, very similar handwriting and similar patterns on the returned ballots”.

He said 13 ballots were similarly rejected from West Torrens.

“This is the first time we’ve seen actual specific examples (of voting irregularities) to the extent where we’d actually hold out many votes,” he said.

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