Informal votes - if they don't scrub up, should we let them into the election ball

Parliament house flag post

Informal votes - if they don't scrub up, should we let them into the election ball

Posted 11/07/2011 by Brenton Holmes



Image source: AEC
At every federal election hundreds of thousands of citizens are lodging votes that don’t count towards the election of their representatives. These are votes that don’t meet the requirements to be considered ‘formal’—and their number is growing. At the 2010 election, 729 304 House of Representatives votes were declared informal—equivalent in number to the formal votes cast in 7.8 average electorates. This informality was 5.5 per cent of the vote—the highest level since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924. The only other election with such unusually high levels of informality was at the 1984 election when the new Senate voting system was introduced, and many people were confused by the changes. Of course, voters may deliberately choose to cast an informal vote. At the 2010 election the Australian Electoral Commission considered 48.6 per cent of informal votes to be deliberately informal.

In its latest report on the 2010 federal election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters devoted considerable attention to the problem, but there was disagreement along party lines about the best way to remedy it. All members of the Committee favoured the retention at the federal level of the existing full preferential voting system for House seats. But a majority also favoured amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act that would include a ‘savings provision’ for ballot papers which would enable some votes to be counted that would otherwise be rejected as ‘informal’.

The idea is based on a ticket voting system that has been in operation in seven state elections in South Australia over 26 years. The system is that if a ballot paper has one or more preferences indicated, but does not indicate a full set of preferences as required, it may still be counted if the preferences that it indicates match what is on a party’s or a candidate's official order of preferences (‘ticket’) lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission.

It works like this:

Registered political parties or candidates lodge one or two ‘tickets’ with the Australian Electoral Commission, each recommending an order of preferences. A ballot paper on which a voter has not indicated a full array of preferences may be ‘saved’ from its informality when:

(a) a first preference has been marked by the voter (by the number ‘1’ or a tick or a cross) for a candidate who has lodged a ticket; or

(b) a first preference and some —but not full—preferences have been marked by the voter and these are consistent with the ticket(s) lodged.

Where two tickets have been lodged, the ‘saved’ ballot papers that are consistent with those tickets are assigned to one or the other through a regulated process that assigns the ‘saved’ ballots on almost an exactly 50-50 basis.

Of all the ballot papers that get saved under the ticket voting provisions, the preferences of the vast majority of them don’t have to be examined. This is because the bulk of the saved ballots could have been formal based solely on their first preferences—and in fact it so happens that the majority of saved ballots are papers that only have a ‘1’ indicated. Candidates who win—or come second—typically do so on the basis of their first preference vote, and only once candidates are eliminated from the count do their preferences get distributed. Thus distributed preferences from saved ballot papers have minimal ultimate effect on the election outcome for a candidate. But voters who cast those ballots are at least having a say in the election of their representatives.

On polling night, the votes that may yet potentially be saved are considered informal. The savings provision is later applied by the Returning Officers once they are satisfied that the requirements for ‘saving’ have been met by the markings on the ballot paper. Thus the South Australian system remains a full preferential system in terms of what a voter is required to do, with the savings provision applied after the votes have been cast and counting is under way.

There are a couple of interesting measures that are in place in South Australia to help preserve the effectiveness of this approach. Firstly, it has been made illegal to advocate any other way of voting other than in accordance with the full preferential system. Secondly, it is illegal to advertise the ticket voting (savings) provision—although the provision is publicly accessible online through the government website.

The SA approach was designed and driven by electoral administrators rather than politicians, and officials told the Joint Committee that they were not aware of any objection ever having been made to the process, nor any attempt made to amend the legislation. Nor had any concerns been raised in post-election inquiries and reports. Electoral officials acknowledged that administering a provision that is largely kept under wraps is somewhat ‘tricky’—but they considered the amount of votes saved made it worthwhile. It seems fair to say that the provision is in keeping with the principle of erring in favour of citizens’ enfranchisement.

But critics of the approach argue that it undermines the integrity of the system, and Opposition members of the Joint Committee submitted a dissenting report setting out their objections to the proposal, and to several other majority recommendations. They regarded the South Australian ticket voting system as flawed, arguing that it allowed ballot papers that had not expressed a valid preference to be ‘deemed’ to have done so, and being thereby admitted to the count ‘according to preferences expressed by other than the voter themselves’. In other words, the informal vote has been turned into a formal vote without the knowledge or permission of the voter concerned.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan. We will close comments after three months.




Captcha
Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

Refugees asylum climate change immigration Australian foreign policy parliament social security welfare policy elections welfare reform school education Australian Defence Force health financing higher education emissions trading indigenous Australians women private health insurance people trafficking Employment illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics United Nations Asia Afghanistan disability income management Middle East Medicare sport health forced labour United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health criminal law transport aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency steroids World Anti-Doping Agency National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling debt taxation international relations constitution New Zealand food WADA Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme corruption pensions public service reform children's health Aviation foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP ASADA Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning federal election 2013 Australian Electoral Commission doping OECD crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy terrorism transparency research and development Mental health welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union Federal Court family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs UK Parliament welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion human rights paternalism integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health China housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions domestic violence export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing election results by-election expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership voting Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare ADRV Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics violence against women language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum early childhood education Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly national security smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid disability employment Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP Tasmania world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea fuel rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top