Numbers point to WA Senate by-election


Update: The result today saw Scott Ludlam (GRN) and Wayne Dropulich (Sports Party) elected instead of the PUP and ALP candidates who had won in the first count. The margin at the key point is 12 votes, a net turn-around of 26 votes. The case seems set to head to the Court of Disputed Returns.

Original post: After the AEC announced on Thursday that 1375 votes were missing in the WA Senate recount, many people quickly jumped to the conclusion that a WA Senate by-election was needed to resolve the situation.

This was slightly premature, as it was still possible that the recount would be decisive enough that those votes wouldn’t make a difference.

However after examining the latest numbers on the AEC’s Virtual Tally Room, I believe that there are two alternative methods of coming to a result that produce different winners, and this probably means that a by-election will be needed.

There are four booths where votes are missing, these are:

  • Bunbury East (Forrest)
  • Henley Brook (Pearce)
  • Mount Helena (Pearce)
  • Wundowie (Pearce)

However, it is not the case that all of the votes at these booths are missing.

According to the latest figures on the AEC’s Virtual Tally Room, 3445 votes have been counted at these booths (including informal votes). This compares to 4799 before the recount started. Confusingly, this adds up to 1354 votes missing. I don’t know why this diverges from the public figure of 1375, but I’m going to set that aside for now.

There are five parties that we need to track for the purposes of determining who will win.

The critical count that is decisive was the point where the Shooters and Fishers defeated the Australian Christians by 14 votes. This produced a victory for the second Labor candidate and the Palmer United Party. If this 14-vote margin was reversed, then the last two seats would have gone to the Greens and the Australian Sports Party.

Prior to this count, three others parties had been excluded and had passed on their above-the-line preferences to either the Shooters or the Christians. The Australian Independents and the Fishing and Lifestyle Party preferenced the Shooters, and the Climate Sceptics preferenced the Christians.

For these purposes I am ignoring all other parties and only looking at the net change in votes between the Shooters/AFLP/Aus Independents grouping and the Christians/Climate Sceptics grouping.

The disappearance of the 1354 votes at those four booths produced the following net change at those booths from pre-recount to post-recount.

Party Pre-recount Post-recount Different
Shooters and Fishers 68 54 -14
Australian Independents 8 4 -4
Fishing and Lifestyle Party 24 23 -1
Shooters Total 100 81 -19
Australian Christians 68 66 -2
Climate Sceptics 3 1 -2
Christians Total 71 67 -4

The missing votes massively disadvantage the Shooters grouping – by a net 15 votes, which is enough to flip the result.

It should be noted that this is based on the assumption that there were no changes in the 3445 votes from those four booths that were counted, but this is unlikely. So the composition of the missing votes could be slightly different to what is listed above.

In the rest of the state, despite quite a lot of votes being challenged and anecdotal reports suggesting many votes had flipped, overall the Shooters grouping has lost only one seat relative to the Christians grouping.

This table lists the vote before and after the recount for the remainder of the state, with all votes at the four key booths excluded.

Party Pre-recount Post-recount Different
Shooters and Fishers 13,565 13,573 +8
Australian Independents 4,034 4,039 +5
Fishing and Lifestyle Party 5,703 5,706 +3
Shooters Total 23,302 23,318 +16
Australian Christians 21,410 21,438 +28
Climate Sceptics 1,491 1,480 -11
Christians Total 22,901 22,918 +17

There appears to be two possible ways to produce a result using these votes:

  1. Only count those votes that have been managed to be recounted, with the missing votes excluded from the count, which will likely result in a very slim victory for the Christians, and thus for the Greens and the Sports Party.
  2. Substitute votes cast at the four booths where votes are missing for the count from prior to the recount, which will likely result in a slim victory for the Shooters, and thus for the ALP and the Palmer United Party.

It is also possible that changes to below-the-line votes that were previously counted as informal could shift the count, but it is clear that the result remains extremely close and likely to not produce a clear outcome. In such a scenario, the case for a statewide Senate by-election becomes quite strong.

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  1. Isnt the “best” solution to take the vote count for the four booths from the initial count and all other booths in the state from the recount.

    What result do you get then?


  2. Roger, that’s what option 2 is, that I listed above. Unless below-the-line votes shifted the result, the Shooters would win by 13 votes.

    However I don’t think that’s decisive enough, considering that if you exclude the missing votes the result is different.

  3. Forget everything…our democracy is in turmoil, nothing but a full inquiry plus new election will be needed. Corrupt/Criminal all Australians need to know what is going on in WA? Palmer has been screaming like a”pork chop” and there just maybe more to this situation than…oops!
    We don’t want a USA style 2000 election type issue…or is this the start of some conspiracy?

  4. Ben

    Could the by- elections be restricted to the booths listed, as these are the the origin of
    the missing votes, Or must both complete electorates be involved. Voters will be very
    indignant at having to recast their votes, which could result in a large informal vote.


  5. And 3 of the 4 polling station are in one electorate – Pearce. We may see a new AEC women in charge next time in Pearce perhaps

  6. The fuss over this election is interesting when the same did not apply a few elections ago concerning ADF members serving overseas. Apparently the postal ballots (from early voting overseas) did not get back to the AEC in Australia in time and the AEC attitude was that the votes would not have affected the election outcome. Not good enough I thought at the time as it was the AEC’s responsibility together with the ADF HQ overseas (RAAF aircraft probably needed to fly them back to Oz) to get the votes back on time

  7. You couldn’t just let those voters vote – it would result in some incredible tactical voting. You’d have Greens voters voting for the Christians and Labor voters voting for the Shooters and a huge amount of attention focused on a few towns.

  8. The Green just got the 6th spot in thr Senate in WA according to the AEC just now

  9. Yes Adrian they did just announce that! But the whole point of the article is to explain WHY that result/announcement is problematic and will be challenged by Labor/PUP..

    It STILL looks as though the difference between the parties comes down to a handful of votes and the missing ballots could well lead to a different result.

    While I shall be extremely disappointed if Scott loses, the process MUST be fair, transparent, and unequivocal!

    THE AEC really messed up!

  10. Since not all the votes from booths with missing votes are gone, it would be impossible, without linking individual votes to individual voters and even if possible should be avoided.

    It would be technically possible, probably not legal though, to only sent the House of Reps electorates with the missing votes (Forrest and Pearce) back to the polls. A bit unfair for the rest of WA but a lot cheaper that the whole state going back to the polls.

    As this almost certainly cannot legally happen, a statewide new election is probably inevitable.

  11. Hello Ben

    The discrepancy on 1354 vs 1375 ballot papers missing is probably accounted for by “Rejected” papers. These never get counted as “Votes”. They do, however, get wrapped up into the bundles.

  12. On the re-count, the advantage gained by AUC over ASP on own and feeder primaries , compared with the original count, was 23 on Tickets and; anywhere between -4 and +21 on BTLs, leading to a “likely” (median) AUC-ASP gap at the critical cut-up of 13- the actual was 12.

    If the missing votes had been found, the likely gap would have lain somewhere between -8 and +8, with a median of 0.

    Still to come though, is the role to be played by multiple voting in swinging the result- I don’t know whether the CDR will even dare THINK about that. If it rules that the election was valid, the later discovery of critical multiple votes cannot lead to a reconsideration.

  13. Hi Ben, I appreciate that things have slowed with Christmas, but have you heard any word on this, along with the By-Election dates for Griffith and Redcliff?

  14. The dates for the by-elections haven’t been announced.

    The earliest possible date for Griffith is February 8, if the by-election is called in the next week.

    There has been speculation that Redcliffe will go on the same date, although it isn’t required. I don’t think as much time is required for the Redcliffe by-election.

    The WA Senate by-election cannot begin until the Court of Disputed Returns considers the matter. Unlikely to be in February.

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