Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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HomeIssue 28FIFO Mayor for Alice?

FIFO Mayor for Alice?


The election of a Mayor for Alice Springs is far from accomplished: The one we have, Matt Paterson, is temporary, or so it seems. 

His challenger, Jimmy Cocking, is taking a string of complaints to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT). 

Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan says: “With the extremely tight margin, I can understand Jimmy would take this action.”

Once a vote count is finalised it is only a tribunal or court that can overturn the result. Although highly unlikely it could be appealed all the way to the High Court.

In such a tight result ultimately it is up to Mr Paterson and Mr Cocking as to when they accept the result, shake hands and call it quits. 

“But no-one can force them to. It’s their right to take it as far as they wish.” 

The Electoral Commission does not have the power to say hey guys, that’s it, and declares one of them the winner. 

Mr Cocking says the Commissioner has the power to call for a recount prior to the declaration, due to the closeness of the result (initially 17 votes): “This was requested by me and this was standard procedure with my scrutineers on the night of September 10 when it came down to 17 votes. 

“The Commissioner approved a recheck of the preferential votes and the margin under scrutiny came within two votes.

“The fundamental focus of my appeal is that it was a partial recheck – the preference votes only,” says Mr Cocking.

“It was not a full recheck – fresh scrutiny of all results including the first preference votes. 

“We were only formally advised this the day before the recount.”

Returning officer in Alice Springs Wayne Harlock says while the process wasn’t called a re-count of primary votes, in fact that’s what it was (see also below).

Mr Cocking says the count did not take place “under scrutiny; [his helpers] were observers only, they were advised they could only observe. I had volunteers organised but didn’t want to waste their time.

“There were no scrutineers on the other side as well.

“This was different to my understanding of what scrutineers were allowed to do and it felt like the scrutineers were wasting their time if they couldn’t call out what they can see or ask the counters to slow down.”

Mr Loganathan says training scrutineers on their role is not the commission’s job and Mr Cocking agrees, saying at best there are lessons being learned from Election 2021 by candidates and their helpers.

“Are they observers or scrutineers? That is the key question here. They are usually new at the job.

“The helpers have much less experience when compared to political party functionaries [in state or Federal elections].”

Mr Cocking says he thought that all the votes were being re-counted, and he gave this as a reason for taking his complaint to NTCAT. [This sentence updated 1.22am Sept 19.]

He now “must state the grounds on which [he] seeks relief from  NTCAT and … state the nature of the remedy sought”.

This needs to happen within 21 days but Mr Cocking says he’ll be ready in seven.

He says he and his team are finalising the “grounds” to be put to NTCAT and he was not prepared to comment on them.

When human beings use pencil and paper to formulate a message things can go wrong. That’s not a problem when the margins are large, when the number of doubtful ballot papers is too low to affect the result.

But it’s crucial when the margins are narrow.

Is a 1 a 7? Is a 3 an 8?

Some choices are not black and white. 

Yet they determine whether a ballot is formal or informal. 

And when just two ballot papers are making the difference between who’s Mayor of an iconic Aussie town and who is not then a lot of eyes will be turning to Alice Springs.

Meanwhile for Mayor Paterson, duly appointed, it’s business as usual, with Mr Cocking’s declared support – only it’s not clear for how long.

And with a third of enrolled voters in the NT not even turning up at the ballot box it wasn’t a great week for democracy in the NT.

NOTES from Returning Officer in Alice Springs Wayne Harlock:

• The count on election night was an indicative count only, where first preferences and obvious informal votes were sorted accordingly (the margin on primary votes after this process was significant – leading candidate Cocking 683 ahead).

• A thorough recheck of all formal and informal votes was undertaken from Monday, August 30, where scrutineers could challenge ballot papers. This also resulted in a significant margin of first preference votes between candidates Cocking and Paterson.

• After the cut off for postal votes on noon Friday, September 10, no candidate had received the majority of votes.

• It was evident a recount of primary votes was not required as the margin was over 600.

• A full distribution of preferences was then conducted with scrutineers in attendance. At this point in time ballot papers could not be challenged as they have already been reviewed twice.

• Upon completion of the full distribution of preferences the leading candidate was in front by 17 votes, and in accordance with the NTEC’s recount policy, the commission determined a recount was necessary as the margin was less than 100.

• The instruction from the returning officer was to recount votes transferred to both candidates, Cocking and Paterson, to ensure they were correct. In addition, all informal ballot papers were reviewed. 

• The recount was conducted on Tuesday, September 14 at 9am with scrutineers from both candidates in attendance. Scrutineers were once again able to challenge ballot papers in the recount.

PHOTO: Damien Ryan hands over the Mayor’s reins he has held since 2008 to Matt Paterson – for a duration unknown.



  1. @ Jimmy Cocking: While I can understand your disappointment, all votes, primary and preference votes, have been recounted and as a result Matt Paterson won and has been sworn in.
    As a councillor, you will have exactly the same voting power as the Mayor.
    The Council needs unity and stability to address the many issues that confront the town.
    What is at stake here is your political capital, your reputation as someone who can put the good of the community ahead of your own self interest.
    Continuing to quibble will probably not result in you becoming the Mayor and it will certainly erode your standing in the community.

  2. @ Jon: I completely disagree with you. As one of the majority of people who voted for Jimmy as my first preference, I feel frustrated by the swing in votes between the two counts – and feel that this discrepancy calls for a full recount of both primary and preference votes.
    And surely having community confidence in the vote will increase the unity and function of council? Also, the idea that Jimmy’s political capital is at stake is laughable.
    He has handled the situation with the measured and proactive composure that attracted the much higher primary vote.
    Also, just a reminder Jimmy will be a be a part of the council whichever way the vote for Mayor falls.
    The same can not be said of Matt Paterson who has not elected to serve on council if he is not elected as Mayor, which I personally think sends a strange “I’m in charge or I’m not playing” type of message.

  3. @ Josh Davis: All primary and preference votes have been re-checked with a high degree of oversight by the NTEC.
    This is a thorough and independent process that provides community confidence in the vote.
    But Jimmy Cocking is complaining that the recount did not happen under the scrutiny of his team.
    He is complaining to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) about issues not yet made public.
    The NTCAT will determine how the matter will proceed and in time there will be a hearing.
    This is a highly procedural process that will not provide a decision quickly.
    If Jimmy is successful there will be further delays while the NTEC follows up on the decision.
    It would not surprise me if the bickering over this result continues for months.
    Good to see our new Mayor carry on with business on behalf of all ratepayers but this dispute is highly disruptive.
    Jimmy Cocking ran on a platform of uniting people but he is now dividing the community as never before.
    Your negative comments about Matt Paterson is evidence of the damage Cocking is doing.

  4. @ Jon: Again I disagree with your dramatic interpretation of events. I think a lot of people in the community welcome a recount, myself included. I’m not sure how you can think this will divide the Alice Springs community “like nothing before”? Another recount seems totally reasonable. Which seems to be reflected in the electoral commissioner’s comments quoted at the beginning of the article above.
    My opinion is that with two counts demonstrating two different results, there will not be community confidence in the result until the votes have been confirmed by a third count.
    A case of measure twice, cut once if you will. If a third count came up with a completely different number again I’m sure there would be community support for another recount and an enquiry. How would you feel @Jon if a third count put Jimmy in front by two votes?
    And my own personal opinion of Matt Paterson not nominating for general council has nothing to do with Jimmy, the recount or the result of either count.
    It’s something I felt before the election and I’m sure I’m not alone in this reading of the optics in Matt’s “mayor or nothing” approach. Funnily enough Matt’s supporters are quick to point out that Jimmy will have the same voting rights as Mayor so he should not contest the recount.
    However, the same can not be said of Matt if the two votes fell to Jimmy in a recount-recount. In this scenario, Matt would not have a vote at all as he would no longer be in the building.
    So, again, a risky strategy not nominating for general council. This all being said, I don’t have anything against Matt Paterson. He clearly has a lot of support and has attracted a lot of votes.
    So hats off to him for a successful campaign. I just think it was a risky strategy not nominating for general council which I thought sent a strange message. This decision also puts a lot of pressure on Matt now with the shrinking margin and talk of a recount-recount.
    I’m also curious about what would happen to the council positions if Jimmy became Mayor? Would Jimmy’s seat on council be vacated for the the 9th council preference?

  5. @ Josh Davis: Two counts both had Matt ahead of Jimmy but the loser wants a third.
    This is divisive and messy when we need unity to get things moving at the Council.
    Less than one third of voters had Jimmy as first preference for Mayor and as the preference vote showed a large number had him well down the list.
    I’m not convinced there is overwhelming support for yet another count.
    Matt has been sworn in as Mayor and I believe that most ratepayers accept that.
    Jimmy needs to take it on the chin and move on.

  6. @ Jon: There have been two counts, with two different results. And we’ve both come out of this with two very different opinions.
    I’d say from our exchange so far there’s little chance in either of us changing the mind of the other. And that’s democracy – in the interpretation of events and behaviours being subjective to the voter.
    But I would have thought that the votes themselves would be objective but this swing in votes between counts seems to indicate this is not in fact so. This is just my opinion and it appears that you do not agree, which is fine.
    Thank you for sharing your views, it’s interesting to hear the other side of the argument. But most importantly hats off to everyone who nominated to be in the running for mayor or council.
    It’s no small thing putting yourself out there to be critiqued by nitwits like me and the countless keyboard warriors sniping from the shadows. Fingers crossed this whole vote count situation is sorted quickly.

  7. @ Josh Davis: The vote count situation has already been sorted by the recount.
    It’s normal for a careful recount by the NTEC to come up with a different count.
    But both counts found Matt the winner.
    My opinion is based on the solid evidence of the NTEC recount.
    Jimmy’s and yours is based on disappointment and wishful thinking.
    The NTCAT is a legal minded body that will only be persuaded by facts.
    Jimmy is positioning himself as obstructionist and a poor loser.
    He needs to cut his losses now and accept his defeat.
    We have a worthy Mayor with good ideas for our town.
    Let’s get behind him.

  8. This situation could have been totally avoided. I understand candidates challenging the outcome, but electronic voting would have solved this and any other disputes.
    This has cost thousands of dollars, that could have been spent elsewhere.
    The worst thing is that it will happen again and each time it costs more.
    It just takes a bit of effort from the electoral commission to solve it once and for all.

  9. Jimmy Cocking, I understand you have taken your complaint about your loss in the recent election for Mayor to the NTCAT on the basis that you are dissatisfied with both the first count of votes and the recount.
    NTCAT would appreciate the urgency of this matter and its potential to disrupt and destabilise the town council.
    They would have moved quickly.
    By my reckoning you should now have some information from the NTCAT and I’m asking that you share it with us.
    Have they accepted your complaint and will they action it?
    If they have, when is the hearing scheduled?


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