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A close-run thing: the narrowest of margins [UPDATED]



The Australian Electoral Commission has announced that the electorate of Fairfax will proceed to a formal recount in the 2013 federal election. Clive Palmer (Palmer United Party) leads with a margin of seven votes following the full distribution of preferences. Just how unusual is this outcome, and how many other close results have there been in Australian electoral history?

The closest recent result was in the Victorian seat of McEwen in the 2007 federal election, where the full recount altered the result from a six vote win for Rob Mitchell (ALP) to a 12 vote victory for Fran Bailey (Liberal). A subsequent challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns further increased Fran Bailey's lead to 31 votes.

Below are a selection of results with a difference of fewer than 10 votes at declaration.

Riverina, 16 December 1903 - five votes
Robert Blackwood (Free Trade Party) defeated the sitting member John Chanter (Protectionist) by five votes
Blackwood, R.O.4,341
Chanter, J.M.4,336
Not surprisingly, John Chanter petitioned for a recount, and the result was declared void. A by-election was held on 18 May 1904, in which John Chanter re-defeated Robert Blackwood by 363 votes (5,547 votes to 5,184)

Werriwa, 5 September 1914 - seven votes
John Lynch (Australian Labor Party) defeated the sitting member Alfred Conroy (Liberal) by seven votes
Lynch, J.13,162
Conroy, A.H.B.13,155
Although a petition against his election was discussed, John Lynch held the seat. He later changed allegiance along with Billy Hughes to form the Nationalist Party, and was re-elected in 1917.

Macquarie, 5 May 1917 - nine votes
Samuel Nicholls (Australian Labor Party) defeated the sitting member Ernest Carr (Nationalist Party) by nine votes
Nicholls, S.R.13,566
Carr, E.S.13,557
Ernest Carr decided not to proceed with a petition to challenge the result, and was again defeated by Samuel Nicholls in the 1919 Federal Election.

Ballaarat, 13 December 1919 - one vote
Edwin Kerby (Nationalist Party) defeated the sitting member Charles McGrath (Australian Labor Party) by a single vote
Kerby, E.T.J.13,569
McGrath, D.C.13,568
McGrath successfully challenged, and the result was eventually declared void. A by-election was held on 10 July 1920, in which Charles McGrath re-defeated Edwin Kerby by a much more comfortable 3,615 votes (15,058 to 11,443)

The figures reported here are from Voting for the Australian House of Representatives 1901-1964 (Hughes & Graham), and may not correspond with the newspapers of the time.

[UPDATE: 3 October 2013]
Antony Green has written an article in his blog discussing the close Senate result in Western Australia, and the precedents for Senate recounts.