Two months after the November 24 federal election, the fun is still not over: Labor’s candidate for McEwen, Rob Mitchell, has launched a challenge against his 12-vote defeat at the hands of Liberal member Fran Bailey, who won on a recount that overturned Mitchell’s initial seven-vote win. The disparity between the two counts can essentially be put down to differing rulings by the divisional returning officer, who oversaw the first count, and the state returning officer, who adjudicated on 640 disputed ballots. Ben Doherty of The Age reported on Labor’s complaints after the poll was declared on December 18:
The Age was told that on one ballot paper, an elector had crossed out the names of all the candidates, replacing them with the hand-written names Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Todd Kelly and other V8 Supercar drivers. The voter then donkey-voted, numbering the boxes alongside one to eight downwards. The numbers favoured Ms Bailey on preferences and, after being ruled informal in the initial count, it was contested by the Liberal Party and ruled a formal vote for the recount … Most of the disputed ballots are in question because of hard-to-read numbers, or 1s which might be ticks.
The High Court now has the power either to overturn Bailey’s win, or declare the result void and initiate a by-election. For what it’s worth, the Electoral Act states that the court must make its decision on a petition as quickly as is reasonable in the circumstances.