The saga of the fraud-tainted North Ward elections in the SJ Shire has an end in sight after council requested a new election be held on October 22, following a Court of Disputed Returns declaration that the 2021 election results were invalid earlier this month.
While the new date was supported unanimously by councillors at a special council meeting on Monday night, a motion over the awarding of court costs split council down the middle.
During discussions over whether council would seek to obtain court transcripts, Cr Tricia Duggin questioned the reasons given in the officer’s report for one of the court adjournments, saying a member of the public had given her different information.
Later in the meeting, whilst considering a submission for a court order to award costs, Shire President Cr Michelle Rich returned to Cr Duggin’s concerns over the officer’s report, taking issue with the idea that a member of the public could be privy to such information and pointedly asking Cr Duggin to identify the member of the public.
Cr Duggin’s refusal to do so was followed by Cr Rich’s tabling of a procedural motion to defer the question of costs.
The motion to defer saw a 3/3 vote that was pushed over the line by Cr Rich’s casting vote.
As a result, council will consider the deferred motion, which recommends council seeks an order for costs from the individuals ‘responsible for the theft of mail’, and a separate order for costs over two adjournments, at the July 18 council meeting.
A small public gallery was in attendance, comprised chiefly of two of the interested parties to the invalidity complaint, Byford resident Shaye Mack and former councillor Rob Coales.
Mr Coales addressed council to express his support over in-person voting at the fresh election, whilst Mr Mack asked what the shire was doing to protect the integrity of future elections, given the chain-of-events that led to the invalidity claim being upheld.
Magistrate Trevor Darge, who oversaw the hearings at the Court of Disputed Returns, will have the final say on a date for the fresh election, whilst council will seek agreement from the WAEC over whether the election will be conducted in-person or via postal votes.
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