Western Australia Faces New Senate Election After Ballots Lost

The Australian Electoral Commission asked the nation’s highest court to nullify the election of six senators from Western Australia after more than 1,300 ballot papers went missing.

The move may trigger a new vote in the state, meaning the final make-up of the 76-member upper house that sits from July 1, 2014 won’t be known for months.

The Senate has the power to block and amend legislation and its composition is crucial to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to repeal a carbon-price mechanism and mining profits tax and raise the debt ceiling by 67 percent to A$500 billion ($467 billion). While Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition has a majority in the lower house, he doesn’t control the upper house where the balance of power is currently held by the Greens and looks set to shift to small, center-right parties next year.

Under an initial tally of votes in Western Australia, the Liberals won three seats, Labor two and the Palmer United Party one. A recount that was ordered due to the closeness of the result saw Labor and Palmer United both losing a seat, and the Greens and the Australian Sports Party gaining spots.

Election officials revealed during the second count that 1,370 votes were missing, prompting an inquiry and threats of a legal challenge by some parties.

Clive Palmer, the mining magnate whose Palmer United Party has two confirmed Senate seats, said last month he will form a voting block in the upper house with the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s sole Senator.

The case is Between The Australian Electoral Commission and David Johnston. C17/2013. High Court of Australia (Canberra).