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City councillor safe as court dismisses election challenge

Local

The District Court has dismissed the legal challenge against the election of an Adelaide City Councillor - allowing the Electoral Commission to send suspect ballot papers to the Government for investigation.

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Early last year, InDaily revealed unsuccessful by-election candidate and parklands campaigner Kelly Henderson had launched legal action challenging Area councillor Sandy Verschoor’s 2015 election.

Henderson claimed that it was “probable that the election was permeated by fraud, to a significant extent, rendering the result unsafe” because a “person or persons unknown unlawfully accessed voting papers from mailboxes” and “fraudulently purported to vote for the entitled voter”.

But the District Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, this morning dismissed the case.

Judge Geoffrey Muecke found that Henderson’s petition to the court “does not disclose relevant essential facts … [and] does not contain facts that would enable the court to find that any illegal practise has occurred on the balance of probabilities”.

Verschoor, who was elected to replace Robert Simms when the Greens parachuted him into the Senate in 2015, told InDaily she was pleased with the result, and that she had been confident the court would find in her favour.

City councillor Sandy Verschoor.

City councillor Sandy Verschoor.

“I’m very pleased that that’s done and dusted,” she told InDaily.

“It’s taken a year … we started in court in February [2016].”

It is unlikely that Verschoor would have lost her position on the council even if the court found her election had been invalid.

Rather than a new by-election, Verschoor told InDaily, it would have fallen to her fellow city councillors to appoint a replacement for her position.

“I was confident that my colleagues would work through the process,” she said.

“I would [have been] hopeful that they would see me as the candidate to fill the position.”

A further irony of the case is that it has prevented the Electoral Commission from sending ballot papers that had been red-flagged in the election to the Government for investigation.

Those envelopes were declared invalid, left unopened and not included in the count.

Deputy Electoral Commissioner David Gully told InDaily his office had to retain the suspect ballot papers, in case the court decided that they should have been included in the election.

Now that the case has been dismissed, he will send the unopened ballot envelopes to government investigators, who may in turn refer the matter to police.

He said dozens of envelopes containing ballot papers for the by-election appeared to have signatures or dates of birth which were inconsistent with signatures and dates of birth of voters registered for the state election.

“We can now proceed with getting this thing investigated,” said Gully.

“A lot of these people [who challenge electoral results] just don’t understand the legal technicalities of this stuff,” said Gully.

InDaily has contacted Henderson for comment.

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