Andy Foster can breathe a sigh of relief and move on from the threat of a vote recount that's cast a shadow over his first few weeks in Wellington city's top job.

It's been a local body election like no other in the capital after Foster received just 62 votes more than Justin Lester to claim the mayoralty.

With such a narrow margin, Lester wasn't prepared to accept the final election result was the end of the road, so filed an application in Wellington District Court for a recount.

That application was denied yesterday, leaving the path clear for Foster to get on with his first-150-day plan for the council, with 33 items on the agenda.


The cloud

The mood for change and progress in the city has been well canvassed, and that feeling of discontent among Wellingtonians is arguably what got Foster over the line.

That's after he got the financial backing and name recognition of film-maker Sir Peter Jackson, of course.

But as much as Foster wanted to hit the ground running, the prospect of a vote recount was a lingering question he couldn't escape.

It's not ideal trying to move forward when your own councillors aren't sure you'll still be there by Christmas.

Onslow-Western Ward councillor Rebecca Matthews wasn't prepared to leave her day job in case Lester slid back in, putting Foster back into the ward as a councillor, potentially leaving her without a seat at the table.

The recount has consumed media attention, leading radio bulletins and landing front pages on several occasions.

"It's been a constant source of conversation, even just in the supermarket or in the street.

"It's been the constant source of media questions about how it's going and what does all this stuff mean.


"I guess people all know more about the electoral regulations than they used to and about how the system actually works - it's a learning experience. But it would be much better if we were actually talking about the things that really matter and getting on with the job",
Foster told the Herald.

Although Foster was convinced Lester never had a real chance, he said the court's decision brought a sense of relief and the ability to move forward with complete certainty.

"It is good to actually finally have even that remotest cloud out of the way".

So long, farewell

The other issue Foster has been dealing with during his first weeks is left-leaning councillors mobilising against him on issues such as the deputy mayoralty, which has now been claimed by Green councillor Sarah Free.

But it's worth pointing out their claimed majority has never formally been put to the test.

Some of those councillors were close to Lester and understandably upset by his departure.

The prospect of a recount offered a glimmer of hope for them that's now been well and truly dampened.

They now have to get used to Foster at the helm.

Justin Lester has failed to get a vote recount. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justin Lester has failed to get a vote recount. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Lester sounded slightly deflated on the phone when commenting on the court's decision.

The interviews would have been reminiscent of this time one month ago when he was answering questions about his defeat on election night.

He said he would fully respect the judge's decision and that was the end of the matter.

"The reality was I wasn't sure whether those votes would change either way but there was only one way to test that, which was through a manual recount.

"So the judge's decision is final and my background's in law, I spent six years studying law, so I completely accept the judge's decision."

Lester said he was excited about new opportunities after conversations with several start-up companies.

During his nine years on the council, Lester has been a councillor, the deputy mayor and the mayor.

He said he was going back to having a "different life" and was looking forward to that.

"It's already been quite refreshing over the last couple of weeks to have dinner with my children, to be able to pick them up from school occasionally, and to have some family time."

The final say

The single transferable voting system (STV) can be difficult to understand at the best of times, let alone when a recount is in the mix.

Lester's application for a recount pointed to 302 partially informal votes which were excluded because voters filled out the form incorrectly.

Andy Foster says it's a relief to move forward with certainty. Photo / Georgina Campbell
Andy Foster says it's a relief to move forward with certainty. Photo / Georgina Campbell

Under STV, candidates are ordered by preference but the rankings must follow an unbroken sequence.

For example, if a voter ranked candidates with numbers 1, 2 and 4, having left out a number 3, then votes would only be valid for 1 and 2. After that, the electoral officer would not be able to determine preferences.

Lester thought 193 of these partially informal votes would have swung his way if they were included, which would have given him the majority to claw back the mayoralty.

He said they should be counted because it was voters' intent that mattered.

But according to information provided by the Chief Electoral Officer, 145 of those 193 votes would actually have already gone to Foster because he had a valid preference before the sequence break.

Put simply, the net result would be a 12-vote gain for Lester, if the partial votes were able to be counted. That's not enough to overturn the election.

In the end, the District Court judge was satisfied those preferences could not be counted in the first place.

"Mr Lester's belief cannot be considered to be reasonable if it requires a recount to be run contrary to the very regulations that prescribe the process that must be followed for the counting of votes."

The judge said there was no other evidence to support a recount other than the closeness of voting, and that in itself did not amount to reasonable grounds.

"I am satisfied from the report provided by the Electoral Officer that the process was carried out in accordance with the regulations and there are sufficient quality assurance and other checks in place to provide confidence in the results."