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ELECTORAL OMISSION: Wrong candidate elected after ECSA bungle

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A major metropolitan council has been thrown into chaos after an embarrassing SA electoral commission bungle saw the wrong candidate elected in the October local government elections.

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Former Port Adelaide Enfield incumbent Peter Jamieson, who lost his Outer Harbor ward seat after garnering 702 primary votes, has told InDaily he will now take up the matter in the court of disputed returns and expects to be reinstated on the council as early as next week.

It’s understood the debacle came about when an electoral commission official incorrectly assigned candidate Adrian Wotton an extra 700 votes – that did not exist.

Wotton was declared elected to the second vacancy in the ward, with 1147 primary votes.

However, it’s understood he actually only garnered 447 votes.

Sources have told InDaily the error occurred when an ECSA official misread the first ‘4’ as ‘11’ and transcribed that number into the official count.

However, in a letter distributed to stakeholders – seen by InDaily – Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry describes the error as “deeply regrettable”.

“During final collation of information… I have been made aware that there was an error made in the entry of first preference votes that was not discovered prior to the declaration of the result,” he wrote.

“The error resulted in an additional number of first preference votes being attributed to candidate Adrian Wotton which in turn resulted in him being provisionally declared elected to the second vacancy prior to the final declaration.

“This error… is sufficient to alter the outcome of the election.”

The Commissioner said he had “undertaken further scrutiny and count to correct the error and adjust the count accordingly, which results in candidate Peter Jamieson elected to the second vacancy”.

“As the Act does not give me any powers to challenge the result, through petitioning the Court of Disputed Returns it will be necessary for a candidate … to dispute the validity of the result and lodge a petition,” he wrote.

Jamieson told InDaily he was “now in the process of putting in a dispute to the court because the electoral commission has incorrectly stated the number of my votes due to an internal error”.

“What I have to do is put a petition in and I’m going through the process now legally – I have two days to do that,” he said.

He said ECSA would give “support and direction” to his petition.

“They’re certainly right behind it, but they can’t legally represent me,” he said.

“I’m assuming I’ll be elected next week sometime.”

Asked his reaction to the bungle, he said: “I’m a forgiving person… I’m going to move on.”

“It’s disappointing that this has actually happened, but I did say to them – at least their audit process works,” he said.

“It certainly wasn’t easy for them to ring me and tell me.”

He said in the weeks since losing his seat “I’ve been going around closing down as an elected member [and] changing my life”.

“It was an interesting process,” he said.

But he maintained he was “looking forward” to returning to council.

“I’m going to get back into it, we’ll be getting straight back into the duties as if nothing happened,” he said.

The formal results are still on ECSA’s website.

Wotton told InDaily he “can’t really comment at the moment”.

Asked whether he believed he would remain on council, he said: “I think we need to end this conversation.”

Council CEO Mark Withers told InDaily Wotton had not relinquished his seat but had “decided to not attend any official council meetings, so as not to compromise or confuse any potential role he may have in the future”.

“He’s waiting, like we are, for a decision of the court of disputed returns,” Withers said.

Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll told InDaily: “It is, of course, concerning that this has occurred and I’d encourage the relevant parties to exercise their right of appeal through the Court of Disputed Returns in the interest of democracy.”

A statement released by the Electoral Commission confirms a candidate was “incorrectly elected”.

“While there are strict procedures in place regarding the process of conducting a count, this error was a result of these procedures not being followed correctly,” it said, adding that “the 205 other elections are not affected”.

“The affected candidates have been advised of this error and should a petition be lodged the Returning Officer will fully assist the Court,” ECSA said.

“Processes are being reviewed to ensure a regrettable error, such as this, does not occur in the future.”

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