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Herbert soldiers miss out on vote

AAP logoAAP 7/08/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Queensland soldiers on exercise in South Australia missed out on voting in the seat of Herbert, potentially opening the door to a court challenge.

The Liberal National Party is weighing up whether to challenge the election result in the Court of Disputed Returns after Labor's Cathy O'Toole was declared the winner by 37 votes over sitting MP Ewen Jones.

The LNP has 40 days from Monday, the day of the election writ's return, to lodge its challenge.

The Australian Electoral Commission worked closely with the Army to provide seven polling stations at Exercise Hamel, held in SA's Cultana training area during the election campaign period.

Defence says 1274 ADF members voted on election day at polling stations in the exercise area.

The Army's director-general of training, Brigadier Mick Ryan, tweeted photographs of soldiers voting on the day.

The Army said it transported another 1371 members out of the exercise area to Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Pirie or Kadina to civilian polling stations to cast their vote.

Defence admits 628 Army members did not cast their votes, but has declined to say how many were from Townsville in the seat of Herbert.

AAP understands at least 100 Townsville-based soldiers were on the exercise, half of whom may not have voted.

Soldiers in Darwin and Townsville were told before they left for the exercise they would not need to cast postal votes as their electoral needs would be met.

The Army is believed to have supplied detailed lists of personnel names and barracks to the AEC.

Exercise Hamel underwent a 24-hour pause on election day in order to allow the soldiers to vote and all Army units were given a specific time slot to vote.

Some soldiers spent up to three hours driving to a staging point where the AEC had set up a booth.

When they got there, soldiers queued for an hour, with 95 per cent of them - according to one source - told that pre-arranged ballot papers were not available for anyone from outside Darwin.

AEC officials then took down the names of those who could not vote due to ballots not being available.

"They had an incomplete roll and had to manually write down names," an Army source told AAP.

The soldiers were reassured they would not be fined for not voting because their names had been written down.

They were then offered mini-bus transport to Port Augusta to cast absentee votes.

Many of the soldiers - who were lugging weapons, helmets and body armour which they could not store anywhere - took up the bus offer.

But others reluctantly decided against it because they were angry about being mucked about, felt it too impractical or they were too exhausted to make another trip.

"We wanted to vote because we were looking for context to what we were doing on the exercise - voting is something we should have been extended," one soldier told AAP.

The bus ride to Port Augusta was about 30 minutes return, but soldiers reported the whole trip - including waiting in line in town to cast an absentee vote - took at least four hours.

When senior Army officers discovered there were problems with voting, AAP understands a voluntary survey was rolled out to determine which soldiers on Exercise Hamel may have missed out on a ballot.

The actual figure of those who did not vote is likely to be bigger than the 628 cited by Defence.

The Herbert case bears close resemblance to what occurred in the Queensland state seat of Mundingburra in 1995.

At that time, the Liberals claimed 22 overseas military personnel did not get to vote as a plane carrying ballots cast in Rwanda arrived too late to be counted.

That election result was voided by the courts and the election rerun.

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