Analysis of Informal Voting, House of Representatives, 2010 Federal Election - Informal voting at House of Representatives elections

Updated: 30 May 2013

The national informality rate at the 2010 House of Representatives election was 5.55 per cent. This is the highest informality rate recorded since 19844, and represents a substantial increase from the 3.95 per cent recorded at the 2007 House of Representatives election.

Table 3 below shows informality rates by state and territory for House of Representatives elections since 1983. Table 4 shows the numbers of formal and informal ballots (and informality rates) for states and territories since 2001.

Table 3

Informal voting rates (a) by state/territory, House of Representatives elections, 1983–2010
% NSW Vic. Qld WA SA Tas. ACT NT National
1983 (b) 2.16 2.20 1.30 1.98 2.67 2.30 2.21 4.44 2.09
1984 5.73 7.54 4.45 7.05 8.22 5.86 4.71 4.61 6.34
1987 4.57 5.25 3.41 6.56 6.84 4.95 3.48 5.77 4.94
1990 3.12 3.54 2.23 3.70 3.68 3.27 2.95 3.38 3.19
1993 3.10 2.83 2.62 2.52 4.06 2.73 3.35 3.10 2.97
1996 3.62 2.93 2.56 3.16 4.08 2.35 2.82 3.39 3.20
1998 4.01 3.51 3.33 4.18 4.54 3.09 2.87 4.16 3.78
2001 5.42 3.98 4.83 4.92 5.54 3.40 3.52 4.64 4.82
2004 6.12 4.10 5.16 5.32 5.56 3.59 3.44 4.45 5.18
2007 4.95 3.25 3.56 3.85 3.78 2.92 2.31 3.85 3.95
2010 6.83 4.50 5.45 4.82 5.46 4.04 4.66 6.19 5.55

Note: Some figures in this table have been revised to correct errors in previously published reports.

(a) Informal votes as a proportion of all votes cast.

(b) Prior to 1984, counts of informal votes included missing and discarded ballots. Discarded ballot papers are those found inside the polling place but not in a ballot box at the close of polling. Missing ballot papers are those which have been removed from the polling place altogether. Counts of missing ballot papers are calculated by subtracting counts of discarded, formal and informal ballot papers from the total number issued.

Source: AEC 1984a-g; AEC 1986a-g; AEC 1988a-g; AEC 1990a-g; AEC 1999; AEC 2002; AEC 2005b; AEC 2008; AEC 2010b.

Table 4

Formal and informal votes by state/territory, House of Representatives elections, 2001–2010
  NSW Vic. Qld WA SA Tas. ACT NT National
2001 House of Representatives election
Formal (no.) 3 788 460 2 955 015 2 106 252 1 084 795 937 707 308 018 202 666 91 161 11 474 074
Informal (no.) 217 169 122 575 106 995 56 133 55 040 10 856 7 386 4 436 580 590
Informal (%) (a) 5.42 3.98 4.83 4.92 5.54 3.40 3.52 4.64 4.82
2004 House of Representatives election
Formal (no.) 3 848 694 3 011 169 2 200 888 1 097 073 941 644 316 123 208 626 90 915 11 715 132
Informal (no.) 250 807 128 712 119 829 61 614 55 458 11 769 7 431 4 231 639 851
Informal (%) (a) 6.12 4.10 5.16 5.32 5.56 3.59 3.44 4.45 5.18
2007 House of Representatives election
Formal (no.) 4 059 486 3 169 028 2 378 853 1 177 537 988 152 325 142 223 581 98 213 12 419 992
Informal (no.) 211 519 106 592 87 708 47 152 38 830 9 796 5 289 3 936 510 822
Informal (%) (a) 4.95 3.25 3.56 3.85 3.78 2.92 2.31 3.85 3.95
2010 House of Representatives election
Formal (no.) 4 009 318 3 180 184 2 384 179 1 204 001 979 949 327 152 223 697 93 883 12 402 363
Informal (no.) 293 763 149 699 137 395 60 967 56 565 13 791 10 926 6 198 729 304
Informal (%) (a) 6.83 4.50 5.45 4.82 5.46 4.04 4.66 6.19 5.55

(a) Informal votes as a percentage of all votes cast.

Source: AEC 2002; AEC 2005b; AEC 2008; AEC 2010b.

Informal votes by vote type

The main method by which electors cast their vote is by attending a polling place on election day and casting an ordinary vote. However, the Electoral Act also provides for a number of alternative methods of voting – these methods are collectively called 'declaration' voting because the elector must complete a declaration that he or she is entitled to vote.

Ordinary votes

  • Ordinary vote – A vote cast by a voter on election day at a polling place in the voter's enrolled division.
  • Pre-poll ordinary vote – A declaration vote that is cast as an ordinary vote before election day. Following legislative amendments prior to the 2010 federal election, this applied to a vote cast by a voter, prior to election day, in the home division or a pre-poll voting centre belonging to the elector's home division. The elector is required to sign a certificate before being marked off the certified list and issued ballot papers that, once completed, are placed directly into a ballot box, rather than in a declaration envelope.

Declaration votes

  • Declaration vote – A vote where the elector has declared their entitlement to vote. Instead of the elector being marked off the certified list, the vote is sealed in an envelope signed by the elector. Absent, some pre-poll, postal and provisional votes are cast as declaration votes.
  • Absent vote – A declaration vote cast at a polling place located outside the division (but within the state or territory) for which the voter is enrolled on election day.
  • Postal vote – A declaration vote recorded by a voter eligible to do so, and returned to the AEC through the postal system.
  • Pre-poll vote – A declaration vote recorded by a voter eligible to do so, at a divisional office or pre-poll voting centre in the lead up to (or, in the case of interstate voters, on) election day. These may also be cast by voters attempting to cast a pre-poll ordinary vote in their home division prior to election day, but whose names cannot be found on the certified list.
  • Provisional vote – A declaration vote cast by a person at a polling place when:
    • his or her name cannot be found on the certified list;
    • his or her name is marked on the certified list to indicate that he or she has already voted;
    • the relevant polling official has doubts regarding the voter's identity; or
    • the voter is registered as a 'silent elector' whose address does not appear on the certified list (AEC 2011a; AEC 2011b, pp.74–75).

While some informal ballots within declaration envelopes may be excluded at preliminary scrutiny 5 and therefore not included in counts, informality rates for pre-poll or postal votes have historically been lower than informality rates for ordinary votes. Informality rates by vote type for the 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 House of Representatives elections are shown in Table 5 below.

As has been the case for previous years, the highest levels of informality at the 2010 House of Representatives election were for provisional votes (7.36 per cent of all votes cast) and absent votes (6.01 per cent). Levels of informality increased for every vote type between the 2007 and 2010 elections, with the largest increases being for ordinary votes 6 (up 1.78 percentage points to 5.96 per cent) and absent votes (up 1.61 percentage points to 6.01 per cent).

Table 5

Informality by vote type (% of all votes cast), House of Representatives elections, 2001–2010
Vote type House of Representatives election
2001 2004 2007 2010
Informal %
Ordinary 5.06 5.51 4.18 5.96
Pre-poll ordinary 4.36
Absent 4.89 5.13 4.39 6.01
Pre-poll 2.81 3.00 2.58 3.56
Postal 1.69 2.10 2.02 2.63
Provisional 6.73 6.82 6.24 7.36
Total 4.82 5.18 3.95 5.55

Note: Figures for 2004 in this table have been revised to correct errors in the AEC Research Report Number 11, Analysis of Informal Voting, House of Representatives 2007 Election.

Source: AEC 2002; AEC 2005b; AEC 2008; AEC 2010b.

Informal votes by division

As was the case at the 2007 federal election, the 10 Commonwealth electoral divisions with the highest rates of informal voting at the 2010 House of Representatives election were all in Sydney. Table 6 compares informality rates for the top and bottom 10 divisions in 2010 with the informality rates for these divisions at the 2001, 2004 and 2007 House of Representatives elections. Figures presented in this table relating to the proportion of the population with lower levels of English language are discussed later.

The top 10 divisions (and their respective informality rates) were:

  • Blaxland (14.06 per cent)
  • Fowler (12.83 per cent)
  • Watson (12.80 per cent)
  • Chifley (11.16 per cent)
  • McMahon (10.84 per cent)
  • Werriwa (10.35 per cent)
  • Greenway (10.27 per cent)
  • Barton (9.82 per cent)
  • Reid (8.80 per cent)
  • Parramatta (8.65 per cent).

Eight of these divisions were also among the top 10 informality divisions in 2007, while nine were in the top 10 informality divisions in 2004.

Table 6

Divisions with highest/lowest levels of informal voting in the 2010 House of Representatives election, comparison with previous elections
State Division Informal % 2001 Informal % 2004 Informal % 2007 Informal % 2010 2006 Census population who speak English 'not well' or 'not at all' (a)
% Rank (1–150)
Divisions with highest informality rates in 2010
NSW Blaxland * ^ † 9.78 10.70 9.49 14.06 10.7 3
NSW Fowler * ^ † 12.75 9.11 7.67 12.83 15.9 1
NSW Watson * ^ † 7.52 9.10 9.05 12.80 11.7 2
NSW Chifley * ^ † 9.20 10.10 7.99 11.16 3.6 30
NSW McMahon (b) * ^ † 8.99 9.24 7.73 10.84 8.5 5
NSW Werriwa * ^ † 8.51 7.98 6.53 10.35 4.0 27
NSW Greenway ^ 6.79 11.83 4.63 10.27 3.2 35
NSW Barton 6.59 6.96 5.56 9.82 7.5 10
NSW Reid * ^ † 11.08 11.71 7.57 8.80 9.5 4
NSW Parramatta * ^ 6.21 8.53 6.56 8.65 7.1 13
Divisions with lowest informality rates in 2010
NSW New England ^ † 1.97 2.77 2.88 3.54 0.2 142
WA Tangney 4.04 4.44 2.73 3.48 1.9 54
Tas. Franklin † 3.00 3.40 2.72 3.48 0.2 132
Vic. Melbourne Ports * 3.26 3.40 2.16 3.25 2.3 45
Vic. Corangamite ^ 3.38 3.04 2.53 3.22 0.3 112
Vic. Goldstein * † 2.77 3.40 2.42 3.13 1.8 57
WA Curtin * 3.30 3.52 1.91 2.93 1.1 73
Qld Ryan * † 2.86 3.80 2.14 2.87 0.8 84
Vic. Higgins ^ † 2.68 2.76 2.57 2.80 2.5 42
Vic. Kooyong * ^ † 2.57 2.90 2.10 2.78 2.3 46

* Division was included in this category in 2007.

^ Division was included in this category in 2004.

† Division was included in this category in 2001.

(a) Refer to discussion. Proportions and rankings have been calculated based on the proportion of persons in the division who, in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing, indicated that they did not speak English well, or did not speak English at all. A rank of 1 represents the division recording the highest proportion of the population with low English proficiency, while a rank of 150 represents the division with the lowest proportion of the population with low English proficiency.

(b) The division of Prospect was re-named 'McMahon' on 22 December 2009. Figures for 2001, 2004 and 2007 refer to Prospect.

Source: AEC 2002; AEC 2005b; AEC 2008; AEC 2010b; Nelson 2010a, Tables 1a and 21a.

A map highlighting the 10 divisions with the highest informality rates in 2010 is provided at Figure 1, while Appendix C lists the 2010 informality rates for all divisions.

Figure 1. Map highlighting the 10 Commonwealth electoral divisions

with the highest informality rates, 2010 House of Representatives election


The highlighted divisions are: Chifley, Greenway, McMahon, Parramatta, Reid, Fowler, Blaxland, Watson, Barton and Werriwa

Source: AEC 2010b.

Figure 2 compares proportions of static polling places according to the ranges of their informality rates at the 1984, 2004, 2007 and 2010 House of Representatives elections. It shows that about one in five static polling places in 2010 (19.2 per cent) recorded informality rates between four and five per cent of all votes cast. A similar proportion (18.3 per cent) recorded informality rates between five and six per cent of all votes cast.

While the ranges of informality rates recorded by polling places in the 2010 election were similar to those recorded in the 2004 election, the 2007 election had substantially higher proportions of polling places with informality rates between three and four per cent, while the 1984 election had a noticeably higher proportion of polling places with informality rates over eight per cent of votes cast. Appendix D lists all static polling places at the 2010 House of Representatives election where the informality rate was greater than or equal to 10 per cent, as well as the total number of votes cast at these polling places.

Figure 2. Proportion of static polling places (a)

by informality rate, 1984, 2004, 2007 and 2010 House of Representatives elections

Graph showing the proportion of static polling places against the informality rate for the 1984, 2004, 2007 and 2010 House of Representatives elections

(a) Excludes static polling places where less than 100 votes in total were cast. In 2010 includes ordinary votes cast at pre-poll voting centres.

Source: AEC 1984a–g; AEC 2005b; AEC 2008; AEC 2010b.


4. The number of informal votes at the 1984 House of Representatives election was larger than at any previous election. Party scrutineers at counting centres reported that many electors had recorded a single preference and then stopped, rather than recording consecutive preferences for every candidate on the ballot paper. It was assumed that this could have arisen from electors misunderstanding a television advertisement associated with the introduction of above the line voting in the Senate (AEC 1985, p.1).

5. Preliminary scrutiny is the process where a voter's declaration envelope is checked for a range of requirements that need to be met to allow the declaration envelope to be opened and the vote within admitted to the count. Requirements vary by vote type, but include that the elector is enrolled and that the declaration vote envelope has been appropriately signed and witnessed.

6. Excluding ordinary votes cast at pre-poll voting centres.