One day after the Western Australian Electoral Commission contacted a private investigator regarding alleged voter fraud in the North Ward, WAEC Commissioner Robert Kennedy advised the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale that “no evidence in their possession” would have been likely to affect the election results.
On July 1, Magistrate Trevor Darge declared that the results of the elections in the North Ward of the shire were invalid, following a complaint initiated by Byford resident Shaye Mack with the Court of Disputed Returns on November 3 last year.
Following the verdict, Mr Mack expressed concern that the current process may deter members of the public from making similar challenges.
“The State Solicitor’s Office referred to a ‘lacuna’ in the legislation whereby no one felt they had the powers to investigate the wrongdoings of an election,” Mr Mack said.
“Where does that leave our democratic process?
“I have had to spend nine months of my time fighting this, risking thousands of dollars of court costs, to argue that fraud shouldn’t be considered in a valid election.
“I understand there are different levels of complaints that get made and the complexities that would come with, but I fear that we’ve actually clamped down on people making false claims to the point that valid claims are getting dismissed far too easily.
“I do think this issue is potentially more widespread than just the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale.”
Both Mr Mack and the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale raised concerns about the election with the West Australian Electoral Commission as early as September 30.
On November 3, Electoral Commissioner Robert Kennedy responded to a request from the shire CEO to “investigate and review” the election, stating:
“The Commission has … concluded that no evidence in the Commission’s possession would have been likely to affect the declared result to the extent that an invalidity complaint should be initiated by the commission.
“Should an investigation be ongoing, you would appreciate that the Commission could not comment before its conclusion.”
Documents show that, on the day before Mr Kennedy’s letter to the shire, the WAEC had contacted private security firm Gold Security “alleging offences against the Local Government Act 1995 relating to stolen votes and votes unlawfully cast”, seemingly based on evidence in the commission’s possession showing:
- The arrest of individuals over the theft of 46 ballots from mailboxes.
- 55 of 120 electors who participated in a doorknock survey said they had not received their postal ballots.
- 30 out of 42 ballots analysed raised concerns over mismatched signatures.
- Two voters were unable to cast their votes on election day as their votes had already been recorded – analysis led to a view that these votes, too, contained mismatched signatures.
This evidence, along with an investigation by Gold Security on behalf of the WAEC that resulted in 27 signed declarations from electors “to the effect the signature… is not their signature, and that they did not cast that vote,” formed the bulk of evidence cited by Magistrate Darge as informing his decision.
Referring to the November 3 letter from Commissioner Kennedy, a spokesperson for the WAEC responded to questions over its decision to not lodge an invalidity complaint.
“The Commission’s position in this matter was made clear in its correspondence.
“Decisions by the Commission whether to lodge an invalidity complaint are made on a case-by-case basis.
“The Commission has generally only initiated a matter for the Court of Disputed Return arising from a local government extraordinary election where the Commission has identified a significant error by its staff or in its processes.
“This was not the case in the recent Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale example.
“The Commission does not have the authority to declare an election to be invalid; rather under the Local Government Act 1995 any person (including the Commission) may lodge an invalidity complaint with the Court of Disputed Returns.
“It is highly unusual to have an election declared as invalid, and importantly the Court made no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of either the Commission or the Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale.”
Read more local Serpentine/Jarrahdale news here.