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The council election for Moreland has descended into acrimony amid a police investigation into stolen ballot papers and suggestions within Labor that one of its likely winners, Milad El-Halabi, should not be a candidate.
One sitting councillor says the election is now impossibly tainted and that another must be held in the council's north-west ward.
Moreland Council’s north-west ward election has been rocked by allegations of fraud.Credit:Michael Clayton Jones
"I can't see any other way," Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton said. "The whole election in that ward is tainted."
By law the Victorian Electoral Commission must continue finalising the counts and declare the results of the election for the northern suburbs council, which are expected on Thursday.
However, once the election is declared, Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately will lodge an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an inquiry into the election for the north-west ward. VCAT can then affirm or set aside the result.
The Victorian Electoral Commission called in police after it emerged that hundreds of ballot papers had been removed from voters' letterboxes, filled in fraudulently and then mailed in.
The scam was uncovered when large numbers of voters contacted the commission wanting to know where their ballot papers were.
Victoria Police said it was investigating "with the highest priority" a complaint made about postal voting in the north-west ward.
"The Fraud and Extortion Squad is providing investigative and forensic expertise to the Victorian Electoral Commission and the Local Government Inspectorate after the matter was reported to Victoria Police on October 31," a spokeswoman said.
"The VEC became aware of the matter when a number of residents in the north-west ward requested additional vote packs after advising the VEC they had not received the initial voting forms in the mail.
"It was then identified that a vote had already been returned for those persons. A number of ballots have been seized and will be forensically examined by police as part of the investigation."
Mr Gately said "at least a few-hundred" suspicious ballots had been discovered.
Meanwhile, senior Labor figures have distanced themselves from Moreland council candidate Mr El-Halabi on the eve of his election to the council.
Mr El-Halabi, who is expected to be announced as a councillor when the VEC issues its voting results on Thursday, is director of the Coburg Market and a property developer.
He has previously been accused of stacking the board of Merri Community Health.
The Age is not suggesting that Mr El-Halabi is involved in any wrongdoing.
Last year more than 100 ALP members in Moreland pushed for council candidates to be vetted before preselection, which is standard practice in preselecting candidates for state and federal elections.
Mr El-Halabi's candidacy was opposed internally, amid claims his work as a developer would pose a conflict of interest to his role as a member of council.
Local members vetted Mr El-Halabi and chose not to endorse him as a candidate, a decision that was overturned by the ALP's powerful administrative committee.
It was one of the last meetings of that committee before the party's national executive intervened in the Victorian branch, after The Age and 60 Minutes revealed systematic branch stacking allegations.
Mr El-Halabi was contacted for comment but did not respond.
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