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A close-run thing: the narrowest of margins

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October 2, 2013

A close-run thing: the narrowest of margins By Toby bellwood

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Australian Electoral Commission has announced that the electorate of Fairfax will proceed to a formal recount in the 2013 federal election. Clive Palmer (Palmer United Party) leads with a margin of seven votes following the full distribution of preferences. Just how unusual is this outcome, and how many other close results have there been in Australian electoral history?

The closest recent result was in the Victorian seat of McEwen in the 2007 federal election, where the full recount altered the result from a six vote win for Rob Mitchell (ALP) to a 12 vote victory for Fran Bailey (Liberal). A subsequent challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns further increased Fran Bailey's lead to 31 votes.

Below are a selection of results with a difference of fewer than 10 votes at declaration.

Riverina, 16 December 1903 - five votes Robert Blackwood (Free Trade Party) defeated the sitting member John Chanter (Protectionist) by five votes

Blackwood, R.O. 4,341

Chanter, J.M. 4,336

Not surprisingly, John Chanter petitioned for a recount, and the result was declared void. A by-election was held on 18 May 1904, in which John Chanter re-defeated Robert Blackwood by 363 votes (5,547 votes to 5,184)

Werriwa, 5 September 1914 - seven votes John Lynch (Australian Labor Party) defeated the sitting member Alfred Conroy (Liberal) by seven votes

Lynch, J. 13,162

Conroy, A.H.B. 13,155

Although a petition against his election was discussed, John Lynch held the seat. He later changed allegiance along with Billy Hughes to form the Nationalist Party, and was re-elected in 1917.

Macquarie, 5 May 1917 - nine votes Samuel Nicholls (Australian Labor Party) defeated the sitting member Ernest Carr (Nationalist Party) by nine votes

Nicholls, S.R. 13,566

Carr, E.S. 13,557

Ernest Carr decided not to proceed with a petition to challenge the result, and was again defeated by Samuel Nicholls in the 1919 Federal Election.

Ballaarat, 13 December 1919 - one vote Edwin Kerby (Nationalist Party) defeated the sitting member Charles McGrath (Australian Labor Party) by a single vote

Kerby, E.T.J. 13,569

McGrath, D.C. 13,568

McGrath successfully challenged, and the result was eventually declared void. A by-election was held on 10 July 1920, in which Charles McGrath re-defeated Edwin Kerby by a much more comfortable 3,615 votes (15,058 to 11,443)

The figures reported here are from Voting for the Australian House of Representatives 1901-1964 (Hughes & Graham), and may not correspond with the newspapers of the time.