CATHY McGowan is on the brink of a historic election triumph in the former safe Liberal seat of Indi after a game-changing discovery yesterday of more than 1000 votes in her favour.
In the latest twist, the Australian Electoral Commission uncovered the votes at the Wangaratta pre-poll station where the final votes in the battle between Ms McGowan and the sitting member since 2001, Sophie Mirabella, are being counted.
The independent candidate was lunching at Beechworth with her sisters, Rebecca, Trish and Helen, when she received a text from her scrutineering team with news of the unaccounted votes which could result in her breaking the Coalition strangle-hold on Indi.
Ms McGowan was under siege from postal votes favouring Mrs Mirabella, with her lead cut to less than 500 at one stage yesterday on a two-candidate preferred basis.
But when counting resumes this morning, Ms McGowan will hold a 1449-vote lead.
One analyst said last night Mrs Mirabella would need 70 per cent of the remaining postal and absentee votes to haul in Ms McGowan.
Red-faced AEC officials blamed human error for the votes mix-up.
“There were 1003 more votes for the Senate than there was House of Representatives papers,” spokesman Dan Doherty said.
“They were from the Wangaratta pre-poll voting centre and it was identified there was an anomaly with 1003 votes and they have been identified as first preferences for Cathy McGowan.”
A source said Liberal Party scrutineers were left stunned and angry.
Under counting protocols, voting slips are collated into bundles of 50 and would have been difficult to misplace.
Mrs Mirabella maintained a brave face after the shock discovery, which threatens to end her parliamentary career and a prized position in Tony Abbott’s cabinet.
“I am sure the AEC is doing their best and beyond that I have got no real comment,” she said.
“The count is going on for days and there is nothing more to do than wait.
“There are still over 10,000 votes to be counted and there is not much to say until they are counted.
“I campaigned and don’t plan for particular scenarios because you do what you do and get on with it.”
Asked if she had contemplated the worst case scenario of election defeat, Mrs Mirabella said: “I am not contemplating anything other than the count.”
Ms McGowan said her hopes had risen again after postal votes had started to favour her opponent.
“I am feeling a little more confident, but I am still realistic about it,” she said.
“It has been a case of swings and roundabouts and I am hanging on with hope.
“If they can find 1000 here, they might be able to find another 1000 there for somebody else.
“You wouldn’t want it to be the other way, would you? It would be shocking.
“But I am more optimistic and it is a lovely buffer.”