By Roxanne Fitzgerald
NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan has said the 13-day window for postal votes to be returned after an election may be reviewed, while the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association has said some voters on stations struggled to return postal votes within the current time frame.
Four key seats hang in the balance from the August 22 election and are unlikely to be decided until the deadline for ballots arriving in the mail, this Friday.
The Electoral Commission is yet to receive about 1000 postal votes and four seats remain too close to call: Araluen two top candidates are separated by 18 votes, Barkly by 15 votes, Blain by 13 votes and Namatjira by seven votes.
Unlike most other states, there are 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.
While the rules may state ballots need to be completed and signed on or before election day, the only thing really stopping people from sending their postal votes after knowing preliminary results is their own conscience.
Mr Loganathan told ABC radio the Electorate Commission would provide data on postal votes for parliament to make a decision on a reduced time frame but said it could reduce the amount of postal votes received.
“If we shorten it, we’ll get less postal votes admitted but we might get a quicker result,” he said.
NTCA chief executive officer Ashley Manicaros also raised concerns that members received their postal votes at the last minute, and some did not receive their ballot at all.
He said a number of ballots missed the first mail plane which services cattle stations weekly, those members of the association could not send their vote back for another seven days.
“It is a very tight deadline, and we have to come up with a better solution,” Mr Manicaros said.
“I am aware of at least one cattle station where there should have been four postal votes and two didn’t turn up.”
He said some people ended up taking their ballot to the nearest early voting centre as they completed their monthly shop.
“There are a lot of gaps in the way we receive postal votes,” he said.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner also said it would be “practical” to review that time allowed and he would be open to the Electoral Commission making recommendations for early votes being counted before the polls close, the NT News reported.
As of Monday, the NT Electoral Commission had received more than 50 complaints related to this year’s election.
The NT Independent first reported the Electoral Act was amended prior to the 2016 election so all voters have the option to complete a postal vote.
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]
Scrutineers today will carry out a recount of six seats with a margin of less than 100 votes, Araluen, Arnhem, Barkly, Blain, Daly and Namatjira.
The Electoral Commission says a recount accords with its recount policy that any division with a margin of less than 100 votes will be recounted.
This involves a full recount of all first preference votes and a check of informal ballot papers,” NT Electoral Commission Mark Wilton said.
“This will be followed by a two-candidate preferred count.”
NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan was not available today for further comment.