West Australians could be ordered back to the polls for an unprecedented Senate sequel election after almost 1400 ballot papers mysteriously vanished during a drawn-out recount.
Amid allegations of fraud, former top Federal cop Mick Keelty will investigate the Australian Electoral Commission's embarrassing loss of 1375 votes.
Experts and political insiders now believe only a fresh ballot will produce an untarnished result.
In what the AEC described as a "serious administrative issue", the missing ballot papers are believed to be from the Bunbury East booth in Forrest and the Wundowie, Mt Helena and Henley Brook booths in Pearce. Of the ballot papers, 1255 were formal above-the-line votes, with the rest informal.
It is understood their absence was discovered several days ago when election officials tried to reconcile the election night tally of ballot papers with the number on hand at the AEC's centralised recount centre in Northbridge.
Scrutineers were kept in the dark, with officials frantically trying to find them while the rest of the recount of 1.3 million ballot papers proceeded.
It is presumed the ballot papers were being stored in several cardboard boxes but no one is certain how they disappeared or from where they went missing.
Ballot papers had been transported to Northbridge on pallets covered with plastic shrink wrap, opened for the recount, then put back on the pallets and re-wrapped.
The missing votes had been counted in the electorates they were cast in and included in the provisional tally but it is unknown for whom they were cast.
The AEC has ruled out substituting the provisional tallies of polling booths with missing votes for the final result but it plans to finalise the count and could declare the winners next week.
There is no suggestion of fraud or wrongdoing but Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn said Mr Keelty, a former Australian Federal Police commissioner, would urgently probe how the ballots vanished.
Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said he viewed the bungle "dimly" and the recount would be examined as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the September 7 poll.
Mining magnate Clive Palmer, whose candidate Dio Wang was set to win a seat before the recount, demanded the AEC declare the recount invalid and allow the original result to stand.
He said the AEC's admission was further proof for his claim the election overseer was incompetent and fraudulent. "Is the AEC trying to rig the election? Are they committing a fraud? Or are they just completely incompetent," he said.
Labor Senator Louise Pratt said the loss of the ballot papers was "deeply disappointing", adding it was a concern for all candidates and the State's voters.
Another affected candidate, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said a fresh poll was "potentially possible".
He disagreed with Mr Palmer's view the AEC was incompetent but he urged the declaration of the result be delayed.
Queensland University Professor of Law Graeme Orr said whatever result was declared it was likely to end up in the Court of Disputed Returns because any WA candidate or voter could challenge its determination.
WA Liberal State director Ben Morton said a fresh poll should not be held.
"The people have voted. It is the commission's job to count the votes and declare the result and that's what they should do," he said.The recount was ordered after Senator Ludlam and the Australian Sports Party's Wayne Dropulich challenged the provisional result, which had awarded WA's last two Senate seats to Mr Wang and Senator Pratt.