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Australia Queensland elections counts drag on, plagued by 'technical' issues

21:45  28 march  2020
21:45  28 march  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Up to 800,000 Queenslanders who were eligible to vote in one of the 77 local government elections, and two by-elections held this weekend may not have voted.

The 77-78 per cent voter turnout fell well short of the 2016 local government election, in which 83 per cent of voters cast a ballot.

The figures provided to the ABC by the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) were:

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  • 3.3 million voters were eligible
  • Around 1.2 million voted at a pre-poll
  • 570,000 people applied for a postal vote — there's no indication yet how many of these were returned
  • 750,000 voters turned out on the day

After the polls closed at 6.00pm, the count was also plagued by technical issues.

The results for Brisbane's lord mayor and councillors massively stalled, with the Electoral Commission's website displaying only a tiny percentage of the votes counted.

Late last night the ECQ website updated to say 23 per cent of the preliminary count had Adrian Schrinner ahead with 45 per cent, and Labor's Pat Condren sitting on 31 per cent.

The Greens' Kath Angus had received 16 per cent.

Mr Schrinner said his scrutineers were advising him Mr Condren couldn't win, but he did not declare victory.

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Mr Condren said it was too early, and that he took his figures from the ECQ and not Mr Schrinner's scrutineers.

At the close of the count at 10.00pm, some seats showed counts of less than 1 per cent.

On the Gold Coast, the count fared slightly better, with incumbent Mayor Tom Tate hopeful he would be returned to head up the council.

"Tonight, it's too early to call given the percentage of votes counted. That said, I'm delighted to have 54 per cent of the primary vote so far," Mr Tate said.

An 'absolute farce'

Parties told the ABC that despite the votes being counted, they weren't being updated online.

The Electoral Commission was also criticised for technical issues that caused a massive delay in the public recording of votes.

The ABC's chief election analyst Antony Green said that by 7:30pm — an hour and a half after the polls closed — the number of votes counted for Lord Mayor was "incredibly low".

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By 8:18pm, Mr Green said the way the count was being tallied in "dribs and drabs" made it very difficult to provide sensible analysis.

Later still, at 9:10pm, a Labor source told Mr Green that in the Currumbin by-election, the Returning Officer might resort to giving them a piece of paper with results on it as an update.

One insider described the process as an "absolute farce."

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said she would be pushing for changes to the election process.

"The Labor Government needs to urgently review the legislation around postal voting because by closing them 10 days ago has prevented countless Queenslanders having their say," she said.

"Because of the impact of the coronavirus, there was a very low voter turnout today and it may be days before we know what the final result is."

Incumbents hold in early results

Early results in the state's two by-elections indicated voters stuck with the incumbent parties.

The seat of Bundamba near Ipswich had been comfortably held by Labor for decades and it appeared candidate Lance McCallum will retain the seat for the party.

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He held a comfortable lead over the One Nation candidate, with about 35 per cent of the vote counted.

But Mr McCallum wasn't claiming victory on election night.

"There is a lot of counting to be done and any confidence will be premature," he said.

"The early numbers are positive, but it's clear that we're not going to get a result this evening.

"There's a record number of postal votes to be counted, but I think it's best for all of us to accept that and get some rest and see what tomorrow's going to bring."

The results were less clear in the Currumbin by-election.

Only 3 per cent of votes had been counted, but the early results showed the LNP's Laura Gerber in front.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington fired shots at Jann Stuckey, whose resignation triggered the by-election.

Ms Stuckey had been vocal in her opposition to Ms Gerber's candidature, and had recently quit the party in protest.

"This was a tough campaign for Laura and her family," Ms Frecklington said.

"The unprovoked attacks by Jann Stuckey on Laura has taken an emotional toll on her family."

ECQ commissioner defends integrity of the election

ECQ commissioner Pat Vidgen said the election had been a great turnout, all things considered.

"By and large it's been really good, there have been a couple of incidents but that happens every election so that's not unique," Mr Vidgen said.

"The legislation required people to vote — it's compulsory — so when people don't vote we move into what we call a non-voter program.

"That means we'll make contact with everyone on records who didn't vote, and we enter into a communication with them.

"There's a number of stages in that process, so it's not automatically a fine."

Mr Vidgen said he would only be declaring results when they were mathematically certain.

"Some of the local governments and some of the seats can be declared pretty quickly when the results are clear with the votes we've got, others may take time," he said.

"Our expectation is that this time it will take longer just because of the larger volume of postal votes that are out there at the moment."

ECQ estimated it cost $28 million to run the election.

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