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Inquiry call amid count complaints as Marshall holds on

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A state Labor stalwart has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the SA electoral commission as vote-counting drags on in several seats – but former Premier Steven Marshall appears set to retain his place in parliament despite a dramatic scare.

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The outgoing Liberal leader finished election night behind Labor opponent Cressida O’Hanlon on a two-party-preferred basis, but has whittled down her lead in the days since and last night nudged ahead after 990 additional postal votes and 1448 pre-polls were counted.

Marshall now leads by 184 with further ballot slips to be processed tonight.

However, former Attorney-General and retired MP for Croydon Michael Atkinson, who ran Labor’s Dunstan campaign, said that “even considering the large postal component, which we know will favour Marshall, pre-polls are breaking to him and therefore he must win”.

“It’s not going to change,” he told InDaily.

“We needed to win [the pre-polls] with about 52.5 per cent.”

Instead, the pre-polls counted thus far have favoured the incumbent.

“He’s going to go on and win,” Atkinson said.

Marshall is relinquishing the Liberal leadership and has hinted he will retreat to the backbench, telling supporters on election night: “I love my electorate – I’ve been out of it for some time… but I’m looking forward to spending more time on The Parade, more time on Magill Rd, more time on Payneham Rd, with the fabulous people of this electorate.”

However, with the party set to win as few as 15 lower house seats – as many ministers as Labor swore in today, only two of whom were based in the Upper House – Marshall may be lobbied to return to a frontbench role, at least in the short term.

That won’t happen until a new leader is elected, with former Environment Minister David Speirs considered the likely frontrunner.

Maverick Mackillop backbencher Nick McBride, who is also contesting the leadership, said regardless of how many Liberal MPs hang on, “there’s been a massive slide in the vote away from the Liberal Government with seats like Finniss that should never be considered vulnerable”.

That seat’s incumbent, frontbencher David Basham, was given some hope of hanging on today as the count proceeded, with the Liberal incumbent narrowing independent Lou Nicholson’s two-candidate lead by around 600 votes, while Labor’s high count threatens to nudge her into third place.

Nicholson can only win the seat if she finishes second in the count before the final preference throw – when Labor preferences would see her sail over the top of Basham.

If the final count is between the two major parties, Basham would easily retain the seat – a repeat of the scenario that saw independent Geoff Brock, who today returned to the Labor cabinet, first elected to Frome in 2009.

Waite is the other seat that remains in doubt, with counting to resume there this afternoon.

However, Labor’s Catherine Hutchesson was best placed to win Sam Duluk’s former seat last night, leading Liberal Alexander Hyde 53.5 per cent to 46.5, two-party preferred.

Atkinson, meanwhile, has teed off about the way the election has been managed, tweeting that “there needs to be a parliamentary inquiry” into the Electoral Commission of SA under the stewardship of commissioner Mick Sherry.

“I was the minister responsible for the Electoral Act for eight years and an MP for 28 [and] I have never seen anything like it,” he said, adding that he referred to “post-election counting, or, rather, non-counting” as well as allegedly denying former Premier Mike Rann procedural fairness over a complaint relating to election material distributed in his name that was initially upheld before being rejected.

The initial decision was reported by News Corp before Rann had responded to the ruling.

Atkinson told InDaily he was also concerned about “huge queues at polling booths”, with “not enough staff rostered on the morning [of the election] when people were out”.

He noted he “did not disagree” with Sherry’s election-eve ruling against one of the ALP’s key campaign ads featuring an ambulance worker declaring ramping was “worse than ever”.

In a statement, an ECSA spokesperson said there was “a proven method for counting declaration votes, which has been used in previous elections”.

“Declaration vote counts require a strict verification process, including ensuring the declaration has been completed properly and that the elector has not also voted on polling day,” they said.

“Only after this verification process has been completed, can votes be admitted to the count.”

They added that “in relation to the District of Dunstan, Electoral Officials have already counted 4109 declaration votes”.

“Another declaration count will take place this evening [while] 3791 postal vote applications were received,” they said.

Postal votes can be received up to the close of business tomorrow.

“As they are returned, they are processed and then queued for the next scheduled count,” the ECSA spokesperson said.

“Vote counting is being conducted methodically and on schedule.”

Responding to the complaint about Rann’s election leaflet which carried authorisation from outgoing ALP state secretary Reggie Martin, the commission said it “received a complaint alleging a letter did not have the required authorisation”.

“A copy of the letter was included alongside the complaint letter [and] ECSA requested that the author [Rann] cease publishing and distributing this letter until it included the required authorisation,” they said.

“It was then brought to ECSA’s attention that the letter had a second page, which had not been provided with the original complaint.

“This second page had held the required authorisation.”

ECSA insisted it “did not provide any details regarding this complaint to the media, and only communicated with the parties, as is standard practice”.

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