Update Wednesday 4pm: The Australian Election Company, the organisation conducting Maitland’s local government election, has informed The Mercury that a mayoral result should be known within the next few hours.
Preference counting began on Wednesday morning, with the two lowest ranked canidates – the Greens’ John Brown and Independent Brian Burke – eliminated from the race by 4pm.
Preference distribution will continue until a winner is elected from the two leading candidates, Labor’s Loretta Baker and Independent Philip Penfold.
An answer is expected within the next few hours, according to the Australian Election Company, potentially from 7pm or later.
Maitland residents should know the identity of their new mayor by Wednesday afternoon.
Distribution of preference votes – voters’ second, third (and so on) options – is due to begin at 9am on Wednesday.
There could be up to 18,500 preference votes that can still impact the mayoral race.
At the end of first preference counting, Labor’s Loretta Baker held a lead of about 1500 votes over nearest rival, Independent Philip Penfold.
Maitland returning officer Kevin Short said counting of postal votes was completed on Monday, with Tuesday spent counting roughly 300 declaration votes.
Electoral staff will churn through up to 18,500 preferences on Wednesday to decide who will be mayor.
An unlikely alliance between Labor and the Liberals, where each party preferenced one another third, could hand the result to Cr Baker. However, preferences act only as a guide to voters, with plenty of room for movement over the count.
Cr Baker said on Sunday she was “cautiously optimistic” of her chances of becoming Maitland’s first ever female mayor.
It’s likely that Labor, the Liberals and the Penfold team will contribute one councillor each to the four wards.
In central ward, Labor will have Loretta Baker (or Donald Ferris in her place, if she is elected mayor) as representative, alongside Liberal Sally Halliday.
Cr Philip Penfold will likely stave off a challenge from Cr Brian Burke for the third councillor spot.
If Cr Penfold is elected mayor, Bill Hackney will take his place in the ward.
Mitchell Griffin (Liberal) and Robert Aitchison (Labor) take up two north ward positions, while the Penfold Team’s Mike Yarrington holds a lead over Independent Michael Cooper.
In east ward, Kanchan Ranadive (Liberal) will be Maitland’s first India-born councillor.
She’ll be joined by Labor’s Ben Whiting and Penfold Team member Peter Garnham.
West ward will consist of Penfold Team’s Nicole Penfold and Labor’s Henry Meskauskas, while Liberal Ben Mitchell has the lead over deputy mayor Ken Wethered.
Preference counting for councillors will begin following the mayoral result, with a result expected Friday.