Tuesday 22 February 2022
For immediate release
A countback procedure to fill an extraordinary vacancy in North-West Ward within Moreland City Council will take place at 10 am on Wednesday 16 March, following the resignation of Councillor Milad El-Halabi.
Under the Local Government Act 2020, the VEC must comply with its statutory obligation to conduct the countback despite a current Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) inquiry into the validity of the original election initiated by the Electoral Commissioner in November 2020.
The application to VCAT was prompted by the VEC’s legitimate concern that an unknown number of ballot papers had been fraudulently completed and lodged with the VEC.
Legislation requires the vacancy to be filled by a countback of all formal votes from the 2020 Moreland City Council, North-West Ward election instead of a by-election. The countback involves redistributing votes to candidates who were unsuccessful at that general election and who remain eligible to participate in the countback.
The countback is based on the proportional representation method of counting. ‘The candidate who achieves the quota will be elected. If no participating candidate achieves the quota following the distribution of votes to participating candidates, the candidate with the highest number of countback votes will be elected,’ Deputy Electoral Commissioner Dana Fleming said.
The countback will be held online via Cisco Webex. A link to the countback will be made available on the VEC website from 9:30 am on Wednesday 16 March.
Scrutineers and interested parties may observe the countback.
The result will be published online at vec.vic.gov.au.
VCAT’s inquiry into the original election is continuing and the VEC will seek to update VCAT on the countback as soon as its statutory obligation to perform the countback has been satisfied. The VEC continues to press for the inquiry to be resolved as soon as possible to provide certainty for the Moreland community and their elected representatives.
Why was the Moreland City Council, North-West Ward election not suspended in 2020?
By law, the VEC was required to proceed with the election and declare the result as soon as practicable, despite specific concerns about the validity of some ballot papers.
Immediately after declaring the result, the VEC applied to VCAT for an inquiry into the election. Under the Local Government Act 2020, VCAT is responsible for hearing disputes about the validity of local government elections. Until such time as VCAT makes a determination about the validity of the election, the VEC must comply with all of its statutory obligations in relation to the election.
Why is the VEC conducting a countback?
If a councillor resigns, an extraordinary vacancy occurs on the day that a written resignation is delivered to the Chief Executive Officer of the Council. A countback is used as the first method of filling an extraordinary vacancy that occurs in a multi-councillor ward.
The VEC is then required to publish a notice of the vacancy and give notice to each eligible candidate within 14 days of the vacancy occurring, and set a date for the countback at least 14 days after the date of the notice.
Will the VEC run the election again?
We do not know yet. The VEC referred its concerns to the appropriate bodies in 2020, including the Local Government Inspectorate, Victoria Police and, as mentioned above, VCAT.
The VEC understands the criminal investigation has progressed, and continues to pursue the issue with the election through VCAT. Any decision on whether a re-election is necessary rests with VCAT – not the VEC. After VCAT makes a determination, the VEC will respond accordingly.
What happens to the countback result if the original election is found to be invalid?
When the countback is completed the VEC will alert VCAT of the result so this can be included in VCAT’s consideration of the issues.
Any decision to overturn a local government election result, or require a re-election is a matter for VCAT.