Council elections put in doubt

BALLOT papers from the last council elections were left unsecured for more than an hour on the night of the vote after a security guard was allegedly attacked and rushed to hospital, The Northern Star has learnt.

Ballot papers from Byron and Ballina councils were left unattended in a rented Ballina shop during the 25-minute running attack, and for at least 45 minutes before a replacement guard arrived.

A record of interview reveals the guard, employed by SNP Security, was lured out of the shop by a loud noise at 1.55am in the morning after the vote, then he was allegedly attacked and left concussed.

While no one has suggested to The Northern Star that council ballots were tampered with, or that the premises were broken into, concerns have been expressed that the lack of security could undermine confidence in the results.

The results in some wards were extremely close with a handful of positions not decided for a couple of days.

Shire Wide Action Group's Byron candidate Tina Petroff, who missed out on a council seat by a meagre 213 votes, said it raised issues about the Electoral Commission's professionalism during the elections.

“The fact the ballot papers were not guarded is a concern,” she said.

“I don't think the Electoral Commission handled the whole election well.

“There was no professionalism and a lot of rudeness from the commission.”

Ms Petroff said when she discovered before the election that residents of two Bryon nursing homes were not registered to vote, she raised the matter with the returning officer.

She said the officer offhandedly dismissed her complaint.

Ms Petroff later wrote to the electoral commissioner about the issue, but is still waiting for a response four months later.

NSW Electoral Commissioner Colin Barry did not respond to questions about the two nursing homes, but said residents should have faith in the integrity of the results.

“Voters in the two local government areas can have every confidence in the integrity of the counts because the NSW Electoral Commission has in place a number of controls to prevent interference with the process,” he said.

Mr Barry said the commission was aware the ballots were left unguarded at the time.

He said there was no evidence that the Ballina site had been broken into, nor had the security tags on ballot boxes been tampered with.

“I note that none of the candidates requested a recount, or has since challenged the result,” Mr Barry said.

However, Ms Petroff said to her knowledge none of the candidates in the September election were aware the ballots had been left unguarded and therefore could not have challenged the result.

Electoral Commission spokesman Adrian Kerr said there was no legal requirement to provide security guards to prevent tampering with ballot papers.

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