Out for the count

Candidate pans system as costs kill court appeal

A VINCENT council candidate who lost last October’s election by one vote has dropped his appeal due to the risk of hefty legal costs if he’s unsuccessful.

At the October 2021 election south ward candidate Joshua O’Keefe received 978 votes, missing out on the spot won by Ross Ioppolo with 979 votes. There were 20 informal votes out of 3282 ballots. 

On election night Mr O’Keefe didn’t have a scrutineer present to call for a recount before the returning officer declared the outcome. 

Mr O’Keefe took the case to the court of disputed returns but after two initial hearings has called off the challenge due to costs. The full hearing was scheduled for Friday January 14, where a magistrate would’ve had the power to order a recount.  

Mr O’Keefe says he decided to drop it after receiving confirmation from the State Solicitors Office that should the case be dismissed, the WAEC will be seeking their costs, which could be $20,000 to $30,000. 

Mr O’Keefe told the Voice: “I’m really disappointed in the process and I’m disappointed that the court is the only way you can get an independent review.

“It’s been three or four months now, it’s been such a time consuming and stressful situation. There should be an ombudsman to help you do that outside the legal system with lawyers and such. 

“It’s disappointing there’s no other way of review.”

Shortly after the election WA local government minister John Carey released reform proposals for discussion, including an idea for “the introduction of standard processes for vote re-counts if there is a very small margin between candidates (e.g. where there is a margin of less than 10 votes a recount will always be required)”.

Mr O’Keefe supports the move (but reckons a percentage margin is the fairest way given differing council populations) and says it’ll help protect candidates and promote greater community trust in elections.

Meanwhile a former Belmont councillor Janet Powell is also challenging her loss by 10 votes in the court of disputed returns, with her case for a recount to be heard in February. 

by DAVID BELL

One response to “Out for the count

  1. This seems so unfair as it was not the disputee’s fault a scrutineer was not available prior to the announcement. The announcement should have been held in abeyance until the votes were checked due to the closeness of the result.

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