The Birmingham council election at the centre of a British National Party votes mix-up may have to be re-run - at a cost to the taxpayer of #10,000.
Claims that BNP councillor Sharon Ebanks was incorrectly elected in Kingstanding last Thursday after more than 2,000 votes were double counted are to be examined by the High Court sitting as an election court.
Although it has the power to replace Coun Ebanks with Cath Grundy, the third-placed Labour candidate, it could order a by-election to be held instead. Council officials - still mystified at how the error occurred - are resigned to a delay of at least four months before court proceedings begin.
Coun Ebanks, who took the oath of office yesterday, remains the lawfully elected councillor for Kingstanding along with Labour's Zoe Hopkins until the court decides otherwise.
Council chief executive Stephen Hughes, who is also the returning officer, admitted: "Ordering a by-election is one of a number of decisions the court could come to. I don't think a re-run would be the right decision because, in this instance, it is absolutely clear what the electors wanted the result to be."
If another election has to be held, the cost to the council of organising the poll would be about #10,000.
Mr Hughes admitted that tellers at Kingstanding managed to count 2,367 more ballot slips than had actually been filled in. A total of 4,981 ballots were cast, with each elector being able to vote for two candidates. The maximum number of votes, therefore, that could have been cast was 9,962 - but at the declaration of the count 12,329 votes were recorded as having been cast. An investigation into the mix-up is under way, and last night the council refused to say whether any members of staff had been disciplined or suspended.
Mr Hughes said: "What happened should not have happened. The returning officer involved was one of our more experienced people.
"We must now await the outcome of the legal process so Cath Grundy can join Zoe Hopkins as the councillor for Kingstanding ward, as the two people who actually had the most votes."
Council leader Mike Whitby said: "We are looking into this as a matter of urgency. Our findings will be made public."
Sir Albert Bore, leader of the Labour group, is insisting the council pay all of the legal fees involved in bringing forward an election petition, a bill that is likely to be in excess of #30,000.