Crucial missing bundle of votes found and added to count in Orange byelection

COUNTING ON YOU: NSW Electoral Commission staff hard at work on Thursday night. Photo: TONY RHEAD
COUNTING ON YOU: NSW Electoral Commission staff hard at work on Thursday night. Photo: TONY RHEAD

AFTER a bundle of votes was lost during the distribution of preferences on Thursday night, they appear to have been found on Friday morning.

The votes are expected to put Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Philip Donato back in front of Nationals candidate Scott Barrett.

FRIDAY, 8AM: AFTER trailing in the two-candidate preferred-count for most of the week Nationals candidate Scott Barrett held a 66 vote lead at the conclusion of counting on Thursday evening.

IN FRONT: Nationals candidate for the seat of Orange Scott Barrett and supporter Phillipa Noakes on Saturday. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

IN FRONT: Nationals candidate for the seat of Orange Scott Barrett and supporter Phillipa Noakes on Saturday. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, whose candidate Philip Donato had maintained a slender advantage for most of the week, released a statement at 8pm on Thursday calling into question the turnaround.

“Yesterday (Wednesday) at the close of counting the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party was 84 votes ahead of the National Party.  After distribution of preferences at the conclusion of counting today (Thursday) we appear to be behind the National Party by 66 votes,” it read.

“There have been challenges to the validity of individual votes throughout counting today - as is the normal process - but not to a magnitude of 100 ballot papers.

“We believe there is an error in today's count by a factor of 100 votes.

“According to our figures, there may be an error in the calculation of preferences from another candidate.

The count to determine the winner will continue this morning.

JUST BEHIND: Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Phil Donato. Photo: PHIL BLATCH

JUST BEHIND: Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Phil Donato. Photo: PHIL BLATCH

THURSDAY, 6.30PM:

THE 6555 people who failed to turn out on polling day for the Orange byelection have left one of the closest results in the seat’s history as the most likely outcome of Thursday’s count became a recount.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Phil Donato was looking likely to win with a slender two-candidate preferred (TCP) margin of 50.11 per cent over Nationals candidate Scott Barrett’s 49.89 per cent.

But several recounts after 5.30pm left the result uncertain at the time of publication with officials to return at 9am on Friday.

The Nationals have held the seat since 1981 and the Country Party since 1947.

Mr Donato had returned to work this week, attending a senior prosecutor course in Sydney while the count continued.

Mr Barrett won the primary vote with 31.58 per cent, followed by Mr Donato on 23.76 per cent.

Country Labor candidate Bernard Fitzsimon came third on 18.33 per cent, followed by independents Scott Munro and Kevin Duffy on 9.36 per cent and 6.58 per cent respectively, followed by The Greens’ Janelle Bicknell on 5.67 per cent.

Christian Democratic Party candidate Dianne Decker gained 3.38 per cent of the primary vote and independent Ian Donald brought up the rear on 1.33 per cent.

Candidates and their supporters knew they were in for a big night on Saturday when Mr Donato placed second across several of the booths after Mr Barrett and won some of his own.

The count suffered a setback when the crucial TCP results were taken off the NSW Electoral Commission website at 8pm because the commission had assumed a Nationals-Labor race.

Once the TCP count was rectified on Sunday, Mr Donato remained in front but the count remained close, with the lead no more than 3 per cent. 

By Wednesday afternoon, the count remained in favour of Mr Donato by 84 votes in a total pool of 48,345.

It remains unclear whether the result could have been more decisive had more people voted on election day.

Of the 56,242 registered electors, only 49,687 ballot papers were received, or 88.3 per cent, compared with a voter turnout of 91.52 per cent in 2015 – the 2011 and 2007 elections both attracted 94 per cent.

However, the voters who did turn out made their votes count, with an informal vote rate of 2.7 per cent, compared with 2.87 per cent in 2015.

Central Western Daily