Scrutiny tight in the Fairfax vote tally

The recount has begun in Fairfax.
The recount has begun in Fairfax.

SCRUTINEERS stood hawk-eyed at the shoulders of Australian Electoral Commission counters yesterday as the painful process of re-examining all 89,173 ballots cast in the seat of Fairfax began.

Unlike election night a month ago on September 7, the mood appeared sombre. Chatter was subdued.

At the entrance to the former Global Living retail outlet on the corner of Evans St and Millwell Rd, Maroochydore, was another change.

There stood an employee with a "Security" tag around his neck.

Clive Palmer and Ted O'Brien, the two candidates from whom the process will ultimately anoint a winner to replace Alex Somlyay as the Member for Fairfax, were nowhere to be seen during a controlled briefing of journalists.

Each, though, was represented by a team of 12 scrutineers, one for each of the AEC staff employed to conduct the count. That means there will be 36 pairs of eyes watching the allocation of each vote.

The recount was automatic when Mr Palmer held only a seven-vote margin over Mr O'Brien after the full distribution of preferences.

The outcome of the recount will be final unless either party chooses to challenge it in the High Court.

The AEC will work in teams of two, opening each parcel of ballot papers and examining each one to determine the voter's first preference and whether or not the ballot was properly cast.

A total of 4506 were invalid in the first count, a number that might change.

The guidance provided in the AEC's "Formality Principle" is very clear in its intent that every possible vote should count.

A two-candidate preferred count will then be conducted. This distributes preferences from other candidates to Mr Palmer and Mr O'Brien based on which is numbered higher on each ballot.

Mr O'Brien said he would be doing the "coffee runs" for his team, which included volunteers and legal representatives.

Key area of focus for the LNP will be scrutinising ballots on the basis of formality.

How long the recount takes will depend on the number of challenges issued by each candidate's team.

If the two weeks taken for the full distribution of the 27,000 preferences of the other candidates was a guide, that might be a long time.

Topics:  clive palmer fairfax federal election 2013 ted obrien

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