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Howard's electoral rules could save Lib MPs
By Andrew Fraser Political Correspondent
12 December 2007
p5

 

(c) 2007 The Canberra Times

Changes to the electoral laws by the defeated Howard government have potentially played a leading role in saving the seats of a number of Coalition MPs. The cleansing of the electoral roll has resulted in almost 147,000 (or almost 90 per cent) of the 168,000 provisional votes cast on November24 being excluded from the count. 

The revelations come as former minister Fran Bailey decided yesterday to demand a recount after the electoral commission's final count gave her seat of McEwen to Labor by only six votes. Ms Bailey's seat is one of seven Coalition-held seats in which the number of provisional votes is greater than the margin between the major parties. 

The rejection of 90 per cent of provisional votes is a massive jump from the 50 per cent rejection rate at the 2004 election. Analysts say provisional votes more often favour Labor candidates, some of whom have not ruled out taking the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns. 

The hike is accounted for by the defeated government's quicker removal of more people from the electoral roll when they changed address and failed to notify the electoral commission. The seven seats where rejected provisional votes outnumbered the margin of votes are Herbert, Dickson, Bowman, Robertson, Flynn, Solomon and McEwen. 

The commission announced yesterday that it had agreed to Ms Bailey's request for a formal recount in McEwen, the regional seat to the north of Melbourne, and it was expected to be completed by the middle of next week, with no progress results to be issued. Labor's national secretary, Tim Gartrell, said Ms Bailey's demand was nothing more than sour grapes and he called on her to respect the results of the recount. ''Fran Bailey was entirely satisfied with the count while she was in front, but her public comments alleging missing ballot papers and criticisms of the AEC's security measures are completely inappropriate,'' he said. Labor's candidate in the Brisbane seat of Bowman, Jason Young, noted that the new laws ruled out people who had changed address within an electorate, as well as those switching between electorates. 

There is concern that some party members seek to falsely change address from safe to marginal seats to maximise their party's vote. Mr Young said the Howard government's changes had put intra- electorate address changers entirely ''out of play''. ''Previously, they were always generally allowed to go through because there was no clear attempt to misguide anything or change a result,'' he said. Of the 112 provisional votes allowed in the Bowman count, MrYoung received 58 to the 54 cast for sitting Liberal Andrew Bowman. ''That was pretty tight but it's still a reasonable percentage out of that small amount,'' said Mr Young, who was only 81 votes behind yesterday. 

Democrat spokesman on electoral matters Andrew Murray said the high number of provisional votes that had been rejected nationwide this year was clearly a result of the Howard government's law changes. He said the big hike reinforced his long-standing message that admirable attempts at cleaning up the electoral roll had to be matched by active attempts to ensure the ability of those put off to restore their enrolment with the correct details before election day.

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