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Aussie investigator can’t say if ballots stolen

March 5, 2014

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An investigator said Wednesday that he was unable to conclude whether missing ballots that have forced a new Senate election in an Australian state had been stolen or simply lost.

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty was testifying to a parliamentary committee that is examining the disappearance of 1,370 ballots cast in general elections in September.

A recount of the ballots swung the election result for two of the six Senate seats in Western Australia state that were to be decided in the election.

But because the ballots have since vanished, the recount does not stand. The High Court ordered fresh elections for all six seats in Western Australia to be held April 5.

While the election cannot deliver Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government control of the 78-seat Senate, its outcome will affect the balance and his chances of passing contentious legislation.

Keelty, who was commissioned to find out what went wrong, described election officials’ handling of the ballot counting as a “disaster.”

But he said he could not conclude whether the missing ballot papers were “accidentally thrown out with the rubbish” or stolen.

He said he found no evidence of corruption.

“The problem is, I can’t hand-on-heart stand here and say that (corruption) didn’t happen, because the system is so parlous,” he said.

Ballots were placed in boxes, which were unpacked and reused to store other ballots from different polling booths. It became unclear which ballots were in which boxes.

Ballots were stacked near trash cans and staff lacked guidelines on how to handle them, Keelty said.

He suggested barcoding boxes so they could be tracked or electronic voting to replace ballot papers marked with pencil.

The ballot debacle and the unprecedented need for fresh elections has led to two senior election officials resigning.

Because senators elected in September do not take their seats until July 1, the fresh elections in Western Australia will not affect that state’s Senate representation. The new poll will be decided before July 1.

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