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Huge number of below-the-line votes deciding factor in tight race for Senate

Australian electoral officer for the ACT Ian Gordon is watched by scrutineer Joel Dignam, 22, of Cook, Dierk von Behrens and counting supervisor Brian Lindsay.

Australian electoral officer for the ACT Ian Gordon is watched by scrutineer Joel Dignam, 22, of Cook, Dierk von Behrens and counting supervisor Brian Lindsay. Photo: Melissa Adams

The outcome of the Senate race in the ACT hangs on the counting of below-the-line ballot papers, which begins on Wednesday. However, the Australian Electoral Commission says the manual entry of the data and checking will take two weeks.

The Greens hold out hope that counting of the tens of thousands of below-the-line votes will boost the chances of Simon Sheikh entering the Senate. Liberal candidate Zed Seselja retains a firm grip on one-third of the primary votes counted so far.

In the 2010 election, the ACT recorded the highest percentage in the nation of voters who went below the line to arrange Senate candidates in their preferred order of merit.

Ian Gordon, Australian Electoral Officer for the ACT, says the proportion could be about 20 per cent for this election when counting is finalised.

He said some under-the-line ballots had been counted on Saturday and the rest would be counted from Wednesday.

When all under-the-line ballots had been entered into the computer, the distribution of preferences would be done.

By late Tuesday, the commission had counted 210,674 votes, 79 per cent of those enrolled. This figure includes 3608 informal votes. The proportion of votes gained by the Labor and Liberal parties rose slightly, while the Greens' percentage fell marginally. Mr Sheikh said counting of below-the-line votes should give the party a boost but he told supporters it would be a long wait for results.

''A large number of Greens voters have voted below the line and many of these votes haven't been counted,'' he said.

He said Greens' scrutineers were reporting trends in the party's favour

''A surprising number of voters for the Animal Justice Party and Rise Up have decided to vote below the line and put the Greens ahead of the Liberals,'' he said. Mr Sheikh said scrutineers reported a trend for some Liberal voters to choose the Liberal Party's second Senate candidate and put the prime candidate, Mr Seselja, last on their ballot paper.

''We hold out hope [of winning] because the gap between us is a lot less than the below-the-line votes that are yet to be counted,'' he said.

Mr Seselja said the Liberals' vote was continuing to track in a good direction.

''I think it's now starting to look very, very positive,'' he said.

''The pre-poll continues to favour the Liberals and to a lesser extent the Labor Party, but certainly not the Greens.''

Mr Seselja said the Labor vote in the ACT Senate was the lowest since 1975.

''It's the closest the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have been in my lifetime,'' he said.

Primary votes for the minor parties so far are: Sex Party, 7088 votes; Palmer United Party, 4676; Bullet Train for Canberra, 3996; Voluntary Euthanasia Party, 3059; Animal Justice Party, 2352; Australian Independents, 1245; Rise Up Australia Party, 1171; Katter's Australian Party, 1066; Stable Population Party, 781; and Drug Law Reform, 714.

The Animal Justice Party, which has first place on the ACT Senate ballot paper - earning the so-called donkey vote - is directing its preferences to the Liberal Party ahead of the Greens.

It put the Greens last in retaliation against ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, who authorised the cull of about 1450 kangaroos recently to protect rare grasslands from overgrazing.

The Rise Up Australia Party is directing its preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Greens. The Stable Population Party has three tickets, two with preferences for the Greens, one for the Liberals.

The other minor parties directing preferences to the Greens over the Liberal Party are Katter's Australian Party, Bullet Train for Australia, Drug Law Reform, Sex Party, Voluntary Euthanasia Party, Palmer United Party and Australian Independents.

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