Wentworth by-election live

Live coverage of the count for the Wentworth by-election.

Live publication of results, updated by the minute with full booth results and swings, can be found here. Commentary of the progress of the count follows below.

Thursday evening

The remarkable swing to Phelps on postals continues, with today’s batch favouring her 306-243. This means the progress of her two-party vote across the five batches has gone 36%, 40%, 45%, 52%, 55%. She also gained with the addition of pre-poll declaration votes, which favoured her 189-112. Her lead is now 38,757 to 36,974, or 1783 votes, which is probably more than the number of late arriving postals that constitute all that’s left to come. Phelps’ margin has ticked over from 1.1% to 1.2%, and looks sure to stay above 1%.

Wednesday evening

The dwindling daily addition of postals put a further nail in the coffin today, breaking 242-224 in favour of Kerryn Phelps. Her shares of the two-party vote across the four batches of postals that have been added to the count have been, consecutively, 36%, 40%, 45% and 52%. The provisional votes were also added to the count, and they were higher than usual in number and heavily favourable to Phelps, who received 246 to Sharma’s 175. Phelps’ leads is out from 1554 to 1643, with roughly 2000 postals and 250 declaration pre-poll votes to come.

Tuesday evening

The count continues to drift away from Dave Sharma, with today’s postals favouring him only 433-361, giving him 54.5% where he needs nearly three-quarters. Phelps’s current lead is 1554 votes, with maybe 3500 still to come.

Monday evening

Today’s counting consisted of finishing off the rechecking of ordinary votes. It appears 54 votes in the Paddington PPVC were reassigned from Sharma to Phelps; other than that, the effect was to cut 209 votes from Sharma’s total and 234 from Phelps’s. So evidently a lot of the action on rechecking has consisted of ruling informal votes that were initially admitted to the count. The upshot is that little has changed since yesterday, except that the window seems to have closed on a major anomaly being identified in rechecking, which was Sharma’s best hope. I had a fairly extensive look at the progress of the count in a paywalled article in Crikey today.

Sunday evening

Today’s events as they unfolded:

• Anxieties in the pro-Phelps/anti-Liberal camp that set in as the largest pre-poll voting centres recorded their votes late last night cranked up a notch in the morning as the first and biggest batch of postals were added to the count. These broke 3356-1858 in favour of Sharma (later revised to 3346-1851), his 64.4% share being fractionally more than he would likely need to rein in what remained of Phelps’s lead. Not long after, Antony Green wrote on Twitter: “No (Phelps) is not home. The difference between on the day voting and voting in advance is wider than I’ve ever seen at an election. In conversation with very senior party people today, they have the same opinion.”

• Around 10:30am or so, Sharma got a further small boost when the two Special Hospital Team booths were added to the total, collectively breaking his way by 266-54.

• After that though, the pendulum swung back. The AEC set to work on the routine recheck of the ordinary votes, starting with those booths where the preferences flows recorded yesterday appeared to be anomalous, as was keenly observed by Kevin Bonham. This confirmed that Phelps had indeed been short-changed in the Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill booths – because, according to Antony Green, the preferences from primary votes for the Liberal candidate had been entered the wrong way around. As a result, Phelps’ 2132-1714 lead in Bondi Beach blew out to 2427-1330, and Sharma’s purported 1305-985 lead in Bellevue Hill turned out to be only 1152-1119. About half the booths have had their votes rechecked to this point, the net effect of the others being neutral.

• Then a second batch of postals went 698-467 to Sharma, or 59.9% to 40.1% – less than he would have needed even before the rechecking raised the bar.

The main votes yet to be counted are late-arriving postals – I see no reason to doubt my earlier judgement that the final number of postals will be very close to the 9392 that were cast in 2016, since the number of applications received was almost identical. That leaves maybe 3000 postals outstanding, along with provisionals and pre-poll declaration votes, of which a high-end estimate would be about 500. This leaves Sharma with about 3500 votes outstanding with which to close a gap of 1616, meaning he will need about 73%.

That’s not going to happen, so it will take the emergence of another error in what remains of the rechecking to make a Sharma victory plausible. Precedents do exist, such as the decisive 1000 votes that showed up for Cathy McGowan as she grappled with Sophie Mirabella in Indi in 2013. But if the remainder of the count proceeds normally, Sharma only seems likely to reel his existing deficit in by around 700 votes, giving Phelps a winning margin of around 900 votes, or 0.6%.

Sunday morning

To cut the following long story short: this isn’t over.

Those who were still paying attention at the close of last night’s action were thrown into a spin when Dave Sharma did remarkably well out of the pre-poll voting centres, which these days account for many thousands of votes and do not report their results into well into the evening. In particular, the 6431 votes of the Rose Bay PPVC broke 4473-1958, which slashed Phelps’ lead from 4.2% to 1.9% – creating just the slightest opportunity for Sharma to pull a rabbit out of the hat on postals.

In the last of my updates in the section below, I calculated that Sharma would need 70% of postals to close the gap, but it seems this was an overestimate. The number of postal votes issued at this by-election has been almost identical to that in 2016 (12860 compared with 12796), so it’s a very safe bet the number of formal postal votes will be around the same, namely 9329. We can also expect 500 or so provisional and pre-poll declaration votes, but it’s the postal votes that are most interesting because they skew conservative. Malcolm Turnbull did around 9.5% better with postals in 2016 as compared with ordinary votes, on both the primary and two-party preferred vote.

If that bears out this time, Sharma can expect to reduce his present deficit of 2590 votes by around 1400. However, it’s not impossible that he will do significantly better than that. Given the trend of polling and the general course of political events over the past week or two, it could be surmised he would do relatively well on votes that were cast earlier in the process. Kevin Bonham points out that the Mayo by-election is particularly auspicious for the Liberals in that Rebekha Sharkie gained a 3.5% two-party swing on ordinary votes against the Liberals, but there was actually a 5.1% swing in the Liberals’ favour on postals. No doubt this was unusual, but it does demonstrate that it would not be without precedent for postals to weigh towards Sharma heavily enough to sneak him over the line.

However, some objections have been noted to the results as currently published:

• The Rose Bay PPVC is an extreme outlier in having a primary vote swing of only 1.9% against the Liberals, where in every other booth it was in double digits (not counting the 16 votes cast through the blind or low vision telephone voting service), and this is not reflected in any unusual movement in the Labor primary vote. However, this very likely reflects the fact that the Rose Bay PPVC wasn’t in use at the 2016 election, and the “historic” vote totals provided by the AEC to facilitate booth-matched swing calculations (including those featured in my own results facility) were well off the mark. Specifically, the “historic” totals only account for 1459 formal votes, of which 983 were credited to the Liberals, compared with the 6431 that actually appear to have been cast. As such, I see no reason not to think Sharma was indeed being undersold in early assessments of the count, as it was not appreciated how much of the harbourside vote was locked up in the Rose Bay PPVC, waiting to be unleashed at the very end of the night.

• Probably more substantively, Kevin Bonham has identified curiously weak preference flows for Phelps at Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill. These would be consistent with 450 votes that properly belong to Phelps having been wrongly placed in Sharma’s pile. If the imminent rechecking of votes indeed proves this to be so, the hill would look just that little bit too high for Sharma to claim. But as Bonham also notes, there could just as easily be other inconsistencies awaiting discovery that could tip the balance the other way.

Election night

Midnight. The last pre-poll voting centres tightened things up quite a lot – not quite enough for Sharma, but there won’t be much in it in the end. Phelps ends the night with a 1.9% lead, which would leave Sharma needing a more-than-plausible 70% or so of postals.

9.55pm. The Paddington pre-poll booth has reported on the primary vote, and it’s a better result for Sharma than the Paddington election day booths, suggesting Phelps’ current 4.4% lead on 2CP will be wound back a little by the end of the night.

9.37pm. If anyone’s still paying attention, all the election day polling booths have reported their 2CP counts now. But we’re still yet to see either primary or 2CP numbers from the four pre-poll voting centres, which should be with us later this evening.

9.02pm. None of the four pre-poll voting centres have reported yet. Other than that, there are three booths yet to report their two-candidate preferred results.

8.36pm. With 28 booths in out of 43, Phelps’ lead is 55-45, which is exactly what the Liberal internal polling in The Australian this week purported to show. Sharma’s primary vote of 39.9% is also what today’s report of Liberal internal polling in the Daily Telegraph said it would be.

8.12pm. Phelps’ lead after preferences looks to have moderated a bit, with 16 booths out of 43 counted, but just eyeballing the booths that are in on the primary but not the two-candidate count, they are largely from relatively weak areas for the Liberals like Bondi, Clovelly and Paddington. In any case, Phelps’ 54.4% obviously leaves her home and hosed. She is giving her victory speech as I type.

7.43pm. Two-candidate preferred results are coming in at a clip, with eight of them now in, and Phelps now leads 56.2-43.8. Labor’s Tim Murray has edged ahead of the Greens on the primary vote, for what it’s worth. That he wasn’t doing so earlier was another symptom of the first booths being extremely wealthy harbourside ones.

7.35pm. Now we’ve got two-party results from Bondi North and Darlinghurst East, and I need no longer fret that my results display has the Liberals in front.

7.30pm. No doubt having sixteen candidates slows up the two-candidate count.

7.28pm. Twelve booths in on the primary vote – not much point in obsessing over them individually now. Still waiting for some more two-candidate results so my display stops showing the Liberals in front.

7.22pm. Bronte and Edgelcliff added on the primary vote. Still waiting on a fourth two-party result to push Phelps ahead on two-candidate preferred, which is where she will clearly end up.

7.18pm. Antony Green calls it.

7.17pm. Bondi Beach East two-party result almost pushes Phelps ahead on the raw two-party count, which is still dominated by two strong Liberal harbourside booths.

7.16pm. Wealthy Bellevue Hill South pushes Sharma ahead on the primary vote; inner city Darlinghurst East fails to reverse it. But the Liberal primary vote is clearly still too low.

7.14pm. Bondi North in, and the pattern is highly consistent: primary vote swings against the Liberals are between 19.9% to 27.1%. That leaves them below 40% of the primary vote, which is fatal for them particularly given the strength of Phelps’ primary vote.

7.10pm. Vaucluse is in on two-party, and because the two booths to have reported on two-party are super-rich Vaucluse and Double Bay East, the raw two-party vote is deceptively favourable for Sharma. So far though, Phelps is getting 65% of preferences, and she’s actually ahead on the primary vote with five booths counted (the latest being Kings Cross Central, a leftish booth where the Liberals are down 20.2% to 25.5%).

7.09pm. Worth noting Phelps’ thumping primary vote, three to four times higher than Labor or the Greens.

7.06pm. Bondi Beach East is the Liberals’ least bad result so far in terms of the primary vote swing, but it’s also the booth where they had the least to lose. The bigger deal is that Phelps has trounced them on the primary vote, 41.4% to 29.7%.

7.00pm. First preference count in from Double Bay East: Phelps gets over 80% of them, 65 to 15, and only loses the booth 52-48. Liberals down 25.7% on primary vote in Darlinghurst East. Early days, but not looking good for them.

6.53pm. If the swing holds, Sharma ends up on 38.8% of the primary vote, which is less than he wants. But booths in are super-wealthy and not broadly representative.

6.51pm. Vaucluse a bit better for the Libs than Double Bay East – down 22.9% rather than 27.1%, Phelps on 20.0% rather than 29.5%.

6.46pm. Details of Australia Institute exit poll here.

6.42pm. So far so good for my live reporting — my swings are the same as the ABC’s.

6.40pm. We have a result: harbourside booth of Double Bay East. Liberal vote down 27.1% to 47.7%; Phelps on 29.5%. Fairly small booth with 346 votes, but an encouraging result for Phelps I’d have thought.

6.15pm. Which is a bit disappointing from my perspective, as it means I can’t give my results projections a workout, assuming as they did a Liberal-versus-Labor count in which two-party swings could be calculated. From the perspective of letting us know who’s likely to win though, it’s very likely the correct choice.

6pm. Polls have closed, and the first mystery of the night is resolved: the AEC’s notional two party count will be between Dave Sharma and Kerryn Phelps. My live results facility will be up shortly.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

1,233 comments on “Wentworth by-election live”

  1. Someone should start fundraising to send Johnny Howard on a tour of all seats at the next general election. It could gather Labor quite a few extra seats.

  2. That looks like further evidence that the Liberals’ campaigning in the last week backfired badly. There should be absolutely no case now for a recount.

    Unless maybe it’s a recount of the Liberal partyroom spill motion!

  3. Is it possible to look out the equivalent postal counts from the 2016 election?
    The swing in postal votes counted on Saturday night to those counted in the last two day is off the scale in terms of statistical significance. Perhaps there’s an argument that early postal voters are more likely to be sent by rusted-on voters.
    If a shift like this is atypical then it’s solid evidence the Liberal’s lost the seat with their frantic efforts in the last week.

  4. I may have spoken too soon earlier about the provisional ballots. It looks as though 451 of them have actually been accepted as valid and added to the official count. The other 1,000+ provisional ballots were rejected.

    They broke comfortably for Phelps and her lead is now out another 70-odd votes to 1,643.

  5. And, stripykitteh, 30 people went to the trouble to fill in a declaration envelope and gave convincing enough details to persuade the officials to accept their ballots – and then voted informally!

  6. She is home and hosed. There won’t be too many voters who posted ballots in the last days of the election and take this long to arrive.
    Wentworth is not a seat in the bush and therefore any ballots posted within the electorate would be with the AEC by now. Those voters who were outside of the electorate are unlikely to be in the outback (however for Wentworth voters the outback starts at Parramatta).

  7. Technically, the AEC has until December 26th to return the writ, but I think they will do the finalisation of the count and declaration of the winner next week. House of Reps doesn’t sit until November 26th after this week, she will sworn in then.

    OT: I remember on a primary school trip to Canberra we were at Parliament on Melbourne Cup day and we had to listen to the race on a guards radio (one of our teachers was a real punter and taught us in a maths class how run a totaliser… the anti-gambling lobby would freak if that happened nowadays).

  8. BSF – the anti-gambling lobby might appreciate the fact that a maths teacher shows students how and why the “house” (or tote company, or bookie) always wins…

  9. William did SA 2014 for the ABC – unfortunately I didn’t see it as I was busy with Tas 2014 on the same night, as was Antony.

    I’ve not yet done a TV broadcast. Suspect I’d come in for heavy attention from the makeup department.

  10. Phelps smashed it on declaration prepolls 189-112. These were cast in other Divisions, mostly during the final week with close to half on the Friday. They have a much different character to the other pre-day votes so far!

  11. Antony Green @AntonyGreenABC
    #WentworthVotes postal vote for Liberals has fallen with each day. On the 20th Lib 2CP 64.4% (5197 votes counted), 21st 59.8% (1166), 23rd 54.7% (794), 24th 47.9% (466) 25th 44.3% (549) #auspol

  12. Was there anything the ubiquitous Morrison or the Liberals did in the last week that would have won a single extra vote? Can’t think of any myself.

  13. [So what’s next? What is the AEC actually doing now and when are they going to declare?]
    They need to wait until Friday 5pm of this week for any late arriving postal votes. Then they can do the full distribution of preferences. The will probably declare the result next Monday.

  14. The AEC are waiting for the remaining postal votes to before the deadline, which is 2 weeks are polling day, so all the votes can be counted before the result is declared.

  15. Yes

    Done and dusted now – 409 postals admitted to the count today, finalised just before lunch.

    Not yet declared, so far as I can see; nor has the writ been returned (if these are separate things?).

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