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The Guardian - AU

Zero evidence to back Clive Palmer’s claim of staff taking ballots home, AEC says

A sign saying 'voting' with a purple arrow at a federal election polling booth with people voting at cardboard booths
The Australian Electoral Commission rejects Clive Palmer’s claim, saying authorities ‘track and account for every ballot paper’ with rigorous security. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

The Australian Electoral Commission says it has seen no evidence to support Clive Palmer’s election night accusation that its staff were taking home ballots, describing the suggestion as “frustrating and disappointing”.

But Palmer has stood by the claim, telling Guardian Australia a United Australia party candidate “followed the AEC officers to their houses” and recorded video of their movements.

Palmer says his lawyers are preparing a legal challenge to the result of at least one division, and had two “independent witnesses” – other than the UAP candidate – who would give evidence under oath.

Palmer first made the allegation on election night, when he was interviewed by Sky News and allowed to claim, unchallenged, that some “AEC officials took home the votes with them”.

The claim has since begun circulating on social media. The AEC has attempted to stop its spread, telling users authorities “track and account for every ballot paper in the election with a documented chain of custody and rigorous ballot storage and transport arrangements in place”.

On Monday, the AEC said it had seen “zero” evidence supporting Palmer’s claims and had been provided no video by the UAP.

Asked how it viewed Palmer’s decision to spread the claim without publicly producing any corroborating evidence, an AEC spokesperson said: “Frustrating and disappointing.”

Palmer said he had seen the video, recorded by the UAP candidate in the unnamed electorate. He said he could not supply the video to the Guardian because it was with his lawyers.

“I think it will definitely challenge the electoral result for the federal division that it relates to, because you couldn’t be sure of the outcome there,” Palmer said.

“That was the complaint by our candidate in that division who produced the video and followed the AEC officers to their houses, with two other people.”

The UAP came nowhere near winning a lower house seat anywhere in the country. Its highest primary vote was in the Melbourne electorate of Holt, where it received about 10%.

Immediately before polling day, the UAP was accused of spreading highly misleading material claiming the World Health Organization (WHO) planned to seize Australia’s hospitals and health assets. The misinformation was spread via newspaper advertisements, social media, and text messages, sent en-masse to voters.

The claim, described by former health department secretary Stephen Duckett as “totally misleading”, appears to stem from a plan by the WHO to discuss a possible pandemic treaty at its 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, from 22 May.

Asked about the suggestion, a spokesperson for the WHO said any such treaty, were it to be agreed upon, would be about improving coordinated responses to health emergencies, including in the development and equitable distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as “strengthening health systems and their resilience with a view to achieving universal health coverage”.

“As with all international instruments, any accord, if and when agreed, would be determined by governments themselves, who would take any action while considering their own national laws and regulations,” the spokesperson said.

The misleading UAP advertisements and text messages are likely to prompt further debate about two long-discussed reforms: an extension of the pre-election advertising blackout, and truth in political advertising laws.

The Greens and some independents ran campaigns supporting truth in political advertising laws.

Experts have also described the pre-election ad blackout – which only applies to radio and television in the last days of the campaign – as outdated and not fit-for-purpose, given the explosion of social media advertising.