Fresh Senate poll on the cards

The final make-up of the WA Senate could remain in limbo for months because of legal wrangling, with a new election unlikely until March at the earliest.

The Australian Electoral Commission will formally declare today the Australian Sports Party's Wayne Dropulich and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam the winners of the last two seats, a result clouded by the shock disappearance of 1375 ballot papers before they could be re-counted.

Political insiders are canvassing several possible court rulings after businessman Clive Palmer pledged to challenge on behalf of his beaten candidate Dio Wang.

Labor State secretary Simon Mead said yesterday "the best legal minds in the Labor Party" were assessing whether to appeal after Senator Louise Pratt was ousted.

Mr Mead said the result would have been different had the missing votes been included.

The return of the election writ to Governor Malcolm McCusker, probably on Wednesday, opens a 40-day window for a candidate or any voter to petition the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, to order a new poll. The AEC may also petition the court.

Unless the court opts for a special hearing, the case would not be heard until at least February because the court's last sitting day of the year is December 13, before the 40-day deadline expires.

Political insiders believe the court could dismiss the petition and let the re-count stand or order the election night results from the four affected booths in Pearce and Forrest be substituted into the final tally.

Alternatively, the court could order just Forrest or Pearce voters back to the polls, or limit it to those who voted at polling booths with the missing ballots.

But a fresh Statewide poll for all six seats is seen as most likely.

If a new election is ordered, the Constitution requires a minimum 33-day campaign period, making mid-March the earliest possible date for a new poll.

Even if the court ruled on the matter this year, the campaign would be delayed to avoid clashing with the summer holidays.

There is no rush for a ruling because the new Senate term does not start until July 1.

A new poll - to cost $10 million to $15 million - would still result in Prime Minister Tony Abbott relying on a gaggle of crossbenchers to pass legislation, with Mr Palmer as the key powerbroker.

Senator Pratt said the twisting saga had taken a personal toll but it was important because the voices of 1375 West Australians had been lost.

"The AEC actually needs to take a look at how it wants to enfranchise those 1375 electors, it's not just a question for political parties and candidates that have been affected by this," she said.

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