Should small application errors see quality candidates prevented from running for local government?
That’s the question some people are asking after council candidates were last week advised of the result of their applications and at least three accomplished candidates missed out due to technical errors.
Even many of those candidates who made it through were frustrated by the application process, particularly those who had already submitted applications in September and/or were running on a group ticket.
Fleur Flanery, a candidate for Yass Valley Council, is one of those whose application failed. She was one of the first to sign up in the Yass Valley but was told she’d missed out because the part of her statutory declaration relating to occupation was filled out incorrectly.
“It was really disappointing news,” said Ms Flanery.
“Formally the Electoral Commission hasn’t given me any reason in writing, which breaches their regulations, so I have lodged a review for an appeal.
“I’m seeking a review because I don’t believe my error was substantive.”
Ms Flanery comes from a long-term career in ACT Government. She held a number of roles, her most significant tenure being as Director of City Services. She believes she is uniquely equipped with working experience on a number of key issues that face the Yass Valley moving forward.
Unless her application rejection is overturned through an appeal in the courts, she will now be unable to run as a councillor for another three years.
What makes the situation even more frustrating for Ms Flanery is that she went to the trouble of getting someone from the Electoral Commission to check her application before it was rejected.
“It was a pretty shattering day on Thursday,” she said.
“I thought I did everything I could possibly do to make sure it was correct. Sure, in retrospect, I can see the error on my form as clear as day but there’s a difference when you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
Adam Honey is another candidate who will now miss out on standing in the December local government elections.
Mr Honey was the first candidate confirmed as running on Karuna Bajracharya’s ticket in Braidwood and was awarded a National Medal in 2020 for his efforts with NSW Fire and Rescue.
Mr Bajracharya had significant trouble entering the applications on his ticket, and Mr Honey is the casualty.
“I was just trying to upload the details of the electors and I must’ve got a small detail wrong, so it just hung and hung,” said Mr Bajracharya.
“Then I hit refresh maybe too many times and it locked me out of the system because it looked like I’d taken three wrong attempts.
“I rang up and waited 20 minutes on hold and, when I got through on the helpline, the lady said she couldn’t unlock my account at her end, and then she put me on hold for another 10 minutes.
“I was into the last 10 minutes before the cutoff and was uploading my final document.
“It was going real slow and I hit refresh, and it then jumped me from part C of the candidate page and reloaded part A.”
As a result, he’ll no longer have enough people on his ticket to be placed above the line on the ballot paper – a factor expected to significantly hamper his ability to get elected.
He says the Electoral Commission should be more lenient given the failings on their end.
“There’s just no acknowledgement from any of them that there was a problem with the website,” said Mr Bajracharya.
“That’s the most critical day for the election for the candidates to get their applications in, and the website was not designed to cope with the load. It’s a real failure I think, and it forced us to rush things through. The amount of tension and stress that morning was out of control.”
Adrienne Steward is another candidate for Yass Valley Council who missed out on being approved. She is the Founder of the Yass Bushfire Relief Centre and co-founder of the Yass Business Mums and Friends networking group, as well as being an active participant with the Yass Valley Business Chamber.
She found out via email at 11:30 pm the night applications were due in that her nomination had been rejected without a reason.
After calling and emailing the Electoral Commission the next day for multiple hours, Ms Steward was left underwhelmed by their response.
“I finally got a phone call from the Electoral Commission and the man I spoke to was particularly rude,” said Ms Steward.
“He advised me that the reason my nomination was rejected was because there was an issue with one of the signatures on my form.
“I was told that I can’t appeal it and that there’s nothing that I can do about it. I did ask for a contact to provide feedback about the process too.”
An NSW Government spokesperson would not comment on any individual situation but offered a statement responding to all missed applications.
“Candidates who have been nominated by the Returning Officer for the 4 December 2021 Local Government elections appear on the NSW Electoral Commission website here.
“Under the Local Government Regulation 2021, late nominations (nomination proposals submitted after 12 noon Wednesday 3 November) cannot be accepted.
“The NSW Electoral Commission does not comment on why a specific person’s or group’s nomination proposal may not have been accepted.”