Ballot story sparks probe

CBD News’s exclusive lead story in last month’s paper has led to a Local Government Inspectorate investigation into electoral irregularities raised.

On July 2, chief municipal inspector David Wolf tweeted: “As the Local Government Inspectorate’s remit includes electoral matters, we are working with the VEC on these ballot paper issues related to the lord mayor election and will advise when the investigation has concluded.”

Acting chief municipal inspector Ross Millard elaborated two days later, saying in a press release: “The inspectorate is investigating the potential misuse of ballot papers related to the Melbourne lord mayor election.”
“Recent media reports have suggested the result in the lord mayor election may be challenged, owing to alleged incidents of misuse of ballot papers by real estate agents and property managers,” Mr Millard said.
Victorian electoral commissioner Warwick Gately earlier took issue with some of the matters raised in our story.

On June 29 he said: “In your article, ‘Doubt cast on mayoral result’ in the July issue of the CBD News, you seem to have confused facts and made several assumptions.”
“The VEC has stated publicly that mail delivery timeframes mean that it is difficult to get postal ballot packs to overseas voters and back in time to be included in the count. Despite this difficulty, the VEC did receive ballot papers from some of the 15,000 overseas voters who were sent their ballot packs directly and were able to return them in time. Several thousand ballot packs were sent to an agency, which was the postal address on the roll for these voters. Many of the voters with agency postal addresses live in Australia, and would have had time to return their ballot material.”
“You claim that the election result is open to fraud, because there is no record of the signatures of this category of voter and the agents could fill out and return the ballots. In fact, the VEC has processes to check all returned ballot material. Material that does not comply with legal requirements is not included in the count and anything doubtful is investigated.”
“It is unfortunate that you have used a difficulty with postal deliveries overseas to make a series of unsubstantiated claims about the integrity of the Melbourne City Council Lord Mayor by-election. I have every confidence in the integrity of both the process and the result for the Melbourne City Council Lord Mayor by-election.”
On July 1 CBD News responded with a series of questions seeking clarification:
How many overseas ballots were received?
How many ballots from c/- third parties were received from overseas? and
What “process” does the VEC use to check returned ballots from c/- third party-forward ballots for electoral irregularities?
His office replied on July 2: “I have sent this to Mr Gately, who will respond in due course.” At the time of publication, no response had been received.

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