Territory Labor have filed a complaint with the NT Electoral Commission over postal votes allegedly being cast after the election night cutoff in a twist of election irony, after Labor itself was the subject of a complaint for setting up a taxpayer-funded email account to solicit postal votes.
As of Friday morning, there were four seats that are too close to call where postal votes are expected to determine the winners over the next week.
The NT Independent first reported that under postal vote rules passed before the 2016 election, the only thing stopping people from sending their postal ballots in after knowing preliminary results is their own conscience. The requirement for a witness to the postal ballot was scrapped in 2016.
There are currently no criteria for Territorians to obtain a postal ballot and they have 13 days after the election to mail it in to the NTEC, although the rules state that the ballot needs to be filled out on or before election day.
NT Labor secretary Anthony Brereton told the ABC the party was concerned some ballots were completed after the deadline but did not say which electorates they believed were allegedly affected by the late ballots.
“Territory Labor has heard concerns about the possibility of postal votes being cast after election day,” Mr Brereton said.
“Territory Labor has raised these serious concerns with the NTEC.”
Labor was referred to the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption earlier this month for campaign mailouts that encouraged people to apply for postal votes and then instructed them to send their applications to an NT Government email domain listed as [email protected]
However, political parties are not permitted to utilise taxpayer-funded email addresses, as political party business is to remain separate from official government business. The @nt.gov.au domain is owned by the NT Government and not political parties.
It’s understood the email address was operational from some time in July until being disabled earlier this month. The matter was one of many campaign complaints being assessed by ICAC for possible investigation.
Mr Brereton did not respond again on Friday to the NT Independent’s questions about the party’s use of the email address and their complaint to the NTEC about alleged late ballots.
According to the NT Electoral Act, it is a an offence to “unlawfully” induce or persuade someone to apply for a postal ballot.
CLP president Ron Kelly said Labor’s late ballot complaint was “desperate” and said he just wanted the counts to be finished.
“We rely on people to do the right thing,” he said. “There are reasons people need postal votes, they may be living in the bush and it has to be signed before August 22. People will do the right thing.”
NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan confirmed he had received Labor’s complaint.
“When the margins are really small, then people look at every aspect of the electoral process and certainly ask questions and lodge complaints,” he told Mix 104.9.
Labor has a confirmed majority of 13 seats, with a couple of others possibly being added.
According to updated counts provided by the NTEC as of Friday morning, four seats were still too close to call and will likely be determined by a handful of votes. In Namatjira, the CLP’s Bill Yan had a slim nine vote lead over the ALP’s Sheralee Taylor.
In Barkly, outgoing minister Gerry McCarthy’s electorate staffer Sid Vashist held a 23 vote lead over the CLP’s Steve Edgington; while in Araluen, Territory Alliance incumbent Robyn Lambley had a 12 vote lead over the CLP’s Damien Ryan.
And in the Palmerston seat of Blain, only four votes separated the ALP’s Mark Turner, who is leading, and the CLP’s Matthew Kerle.