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Official ‘dismissive of ballot count concerns’

The chief electoral officer involved in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone General Election result allegedly told a candidate’s wife he didn’t believe her claims about suspect ballot papers, a court was told.

During a second day of the challenge into the result the court heard Douglas Bain had been “dismissive” when asked what had happened to two disputed ballots which had been removed while votes were being counted.

Unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor lost out to Michelle Gildernew by just four votes, but he claims the electoral process was flawed.

Yesterday the Election Court, sitting in Dungannon, was told of an alleged incident while votes were being counted.

Mark Ovens, who was part of Mr Connor’s team, said a counting assistant had questioned a voting paper contained in a bundle of ballots for Ms Gildernew.

“He kept insisting it was different it was a different type of paper something stood out with this vote,” Mr Ovens said.

The suspect ballot was passed to a supervisor, she took it away and the count continued.

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Soon afterwards a second suspect ballot paper was pulled and also passed to the supervisor.

When Mr Bain arrived at the count, Liz Connor — Mr Connor’s wife and election agent — asked what had happened to the two votes.

According to Mr Ovens, she was told by the chief electoral officer: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Mrs Connor, he claimed, continued to press Mr Bain about where the votes had gone.

“Mr Bain turned and faced her and said: ‘I don’t believe you’. His tone was quite dismissive,” Mr Ovens added.

Paul Maguire, QC for the electoral office, said Mr Bain had actually taken the unprecedented step of handing Mr Ovens two bundles of votes to inspect.

However, after trying to sort through the bundles for the suspect ballot papers, Mr Ovens gave up, claiming it was a “futile” task.

The court was also told that eight “excess” votes in a ballot box taken from Holy Trinity Primary School have now been accounted for, and are no longer in contention.

The case continues.

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