Between 2001 and 2004, there was a slight increase in the percentage of informal votes for House of Representatives elections. In 2004 13 098 461 Australians were enrolled to vote, and a total of 12 354 983 votes were cast, a participation rate of 94.32%. Of the total votes cast 639 851 (5.18%) were counted as informal, an increase in 0.36 percentage points (or 7.5% of total informal votes) since 2001.
The high informality rates at the 2001 election resulted in several activities by the AEC to address and reduce informal voting. Several different initiatives were undertaken, including an enhanced public awareness program in New South Wales and Queensland to address the possible impact of optional preferential voting systems used for state elections. In addition to regular advertising, this involved having posters in all polling places to remind electors to number every square on the House of Representatives ballot paper. Issuing officers were also provided with a script, and instructed to remind all electors of this requirement when issuing ballot papers.
In New South Wales, community information sessions were conducted during August and September 2004 in Auburn, Parramatta, Liverpool, Cabramatta, Blacktown and the Canterbury–Bankstown area. These areas were selected because of the high levels of informal voting recorded at the 2001 election. Information sessions conducted in conjunction with Migrant Resource Centres were designed to educate ethnic community leaders and service providers, who in turn acted as intermediaries within their local communities to inform others about how to participate fully in the election process and make their votes count.
The 2004 informality levels suggest that there needs to be continued emphasis on activities and programs within divisions with continued high levels of informality.
Appendix: Research Report Number 7–Analysis of the Increase in Informality During the House of Representatives 2004 Election–Divisional Summaries has a full breakdown of informal votes by category for each division.
In general, informal ballots can be broken into the following categories:
There are some differences between how informal votes were categorised in 2001 and how they were categorised in 2004. In 2004, Langer-style votes were simply counted as 'Non-sequential', and separate categories were established for incomplete votes and votes that used non-numeric symbols (in 2001, any vote that listed an incomplete number of preferences was categorised as 'Other', along with those using non-numeric symbols). While electoral officials were given instructions on how to categorise informal ballots for both elections, in some cases they may have differed in their interpretation of the categories. This is largely because some informal ballots satisfy multiple criteria, and might therefore be placed in more than one category. For example, if a ballot paper has non-sequential numbering, ticks and crosses, and marks and slogans, it could be placed in any one of three categories.
To make categories used in 2001 and 2004 more nearly equivalent for statistical and comparative purposes, they have been adjusted as follows.
Because some ballots categorised simply as 'Other' in 2001 were subcategorised into 'Incomplete' in 2004, the 2004 'Other' category can be expected to be smaller (all other factors being equal).
Figure 1 and Table 2 show the proportions of informal votes by category for the 2001 and 2004 elections. For comparative purposes, Figure 1 combines the 2004 'Incomplete numbering' category with 'Other', since those ballots would have been categorised as 'Other' in 2001. Table 2 lists these categories separately.
Figure 1: Informality, by category, 2001 and 2004
|Category||National average 2001||ACT||NSW||NT||Qld||SA||Tas.||Vic.||WA|
|Number 1 only|
|Ticks and crosses|
|Marks and scribbles|
|Slogans making numbers illegible|
|2001 (includes other symbols)||5.98||18.63||3.87||8.09||8.72||2.87||0.51||3.98||2.83|
|Average number of candidates:
|Socioeconomic index a||Geographical classification|
|Division with lowest informality levels in 2004|
|Vic.||Melbourne||3.77||3.27||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|Divisions with highest informality levels in 2004 b|
|NSW||Werriwa||8.51||7.98||Lower Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
|NSW||Kingsford Smith||6.14||8.43||High||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Prospect||8.99||9.24||Lower Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
|NSW||Blaxland||9.78||10.70||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Reid||11.08||11.71||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Greenway||6.79||11.83||Upper Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
In 2004, the 10 divisions with the highest levels of overall informality were all in Sydney. Using the Australian Bureau of Statistics' socioeconomic index, which is based on 2001 census statistics, three out of 10 of these divisions are classified as low, lower or lower middle. In contrast, the divisions with the lowest levels of informality are in a range of socio-economic classifications, geographical locations and states.
Whilst the ranking of divisions with the highest and lowest informality levels may have changed slightly, the comparison of informality levels above reveals that informality levels did not vary significantly between 2001 and 2004.
A correlation scattergram (Figure 2) shows a very slight correlation between overall levels of informality and an area's socioeconomic index. A regression of this data reveals that this correlation is not statistically significant.
Figure 2: National level of informality, percentage against socioeconomic index
While there has been an increase in informal voting across all division locations, informal voting levels have been consistently higher in metropolitan areas for the past two elections (Table 4).
|Average no. of candidates
|Average change in candidates from 2001||% points
Informality levels across all types of declaration votes rose in 2004 consistent with the overall increase in informality from 2001.
An analysis of all declaration votes by state (Table 5) suggests that people who cast postal and pre-poll votes have lower incidences of informality. Postal voters often have long periods of time at home to read through the ballot and the instructions, and are not hurried by the normal business of election-day voting, which might contribute to informality levels.
The informality level for absent votes is 5.13 percent, consistent with the informality level for all votes cast – 5.18 percent. Informality levels among provisional voters have typically been higher – in 2001, 6.73%, in 2004 6.82%.
|State||Absent votes||Informal absent||Postal
|Informal postal||Pre-poll votes||Informal pre-poll||Provisional votes||Informal provisional|
|ACT||4 368||168||7 567||104||33 289||744||2 643||165|
|NSW||245 680||14 283||189 256||4 743||259 022||8 986||28 544||2 290|
|NT||2 070||93||3 107||43||10 050||268||1 183||61|
|Qld||132 752||5 941||136 977||3 018||116 870||3 393||14 667||1 033|
|SA||61 997||3 326||44 662||839||40 807||1 224||4 843||391|
|Tas.||15 038||421||15 837||249||14 465||275||3 353||184|
|Vic.||180 961||8 692||176 645||3 071||187 468||5 128||22 201||1 139|
|WA||102 246||5 307||39 226||840||56 078||1 550||13 078||906|
|Total||745 112||38 231||613 277||12 907||718 049||21 568||90 512||6 169|
|Total informal '04||5.13%||2.10%||3.00%||6.82%|
|Total informal '01||4.89%||1.69%||2.81%||6.73%|
The proportion of informal ballots declared informal because they were blank did not change significantly between the 2001 and 2004 elections. Table 11 in the appendix of this paper lists the 10 divisions with the highest proportion of blank ballots in the 2004 election, with figures for those divisions in 2001. Figure 8 in the appendix charts blanks against the socioeconomic index.
Across all states and territories, percentage levels of informal blank ballots were at similar levels in 2001 and 2004.
The only category with significant changes between 2001 and 2004 was 'Marks and scribbles'. Ballot papers categorised under this heading are perhaps the most indicative of political protest. Most of these papers have been marked with slogans and words of protest against the political and electoral system, without the elector expressing a sufficient number of preferences. Such papers most clearly indicate the voter's intention to cast an informal ballot. This could perhaps be attributed to because of apathy, dissociation from the electoral process or dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates.
Had the proportion of ballots informal because of marks and scribbles stayed constant from 2001 to 2004, there would have been approximately 49 973 fewer informal ballots in 2004. This would have reduced the overall informality rate to 4.78%, close to the rate of 4.8% in 2001. That is, if the level of informality due to marks had stayed the same, total informality would also have been virtually unchanged.
The 10 divisions with the lowest level of informal ballots due to scribbles and marks were in inner or outer metropolitan areas in New South Wales (Table 6).
|State||Division||Informal from scribbles/marks
|Informal from scribbles/marks
|Socioeconomic index||Geographical classification|
|Divisions with highest percentages of informal ballots in marks/scribbles category|
|Vic.||Maribyrnong||29.11||0.64||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|Tas.||Denison||26.50||13.76||Upper Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|Vic.||Scullin||26.40||11.16||Lower Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
|Vic.||Batman||25.57||0.17||Upper Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|Vic.||Calwell||24.73||1.36||Lower Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
|Divisions with lowest percentages of informal ballots in marks/scribbles category|
|NSW||Watson||6.06||4.19||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Barton||5.86||4.95||Upper Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Greenway||5.66||3.66||Upper Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
|NSW||Kingsford Smith||5.64||5.09||High||Inner Metropolitan|
|NSW||Blaxland||5.10||6.05||Lower Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
A correlation scattergram (Figure 3) confirms the examination of the top 10 divisions and indicates a slight negative correlation between the percentage of informality due to marks and scribbles and the socioeconomic index.
Figure 3: Informality due to marks and scribbles, 2004, against socioeconomic index
Full preferential voting for the House of Representatives requires every square to be numbered in order, but not all elections in Australia require this. Of the 50 divisions with the highest percentage of informal votes (ranging from 5.46% to 11.83%), 35 are in either Queensland or New South Wales, the two states where preferential voting is optional at the state level.
The state with the largest proportion of 'Number 1 only' informal votes in 2004 was Queensland with 44.57% of informal votes, a slight falling from 46.42% in 2001). In New South Wales, the proportion of 'Number 1 only' votes rose by more than three percentage points, from 32.47% to 35.65% (see Table 7; Figure 7 in the appendix to this paper charts these votes against the socioeconomic index).
|Socioeconomic index||Geographical classification|
|Qld||Lilley||55.16||45.05||Upper Middle||Inner Metropolitan|
|Qld||Petrie||49.25||50.93||Upper Middle||Outer Metropolitan|
The use of ticks and crosses renders a House of Representatives ballot informal for Australian federal elections. The national average percentage of papers counted as informal for this reason fell from 2001 to 2004.
Eight of the 10 divisions with the highest proportion of informality due to ticks and crosses were in New South Wales. However, this proportion fell in New South Wales from 12.57% in 2001 to 10.71% in 2004. Table 12 in the appendix to this paper lists the 10 divisions with the highest proportion of informal ballots declared informal in 2004 because of ticks and crosses.
In Queensland and New South Wales, around 50% of informality is caused by either 'Ticks and crosses' or 'Number 1 only'. These are potentially avoidable types of voting informality, in which people are attempting to vote correctly but are perhaps confused by differences between state and federal voting systems.
Furthermore, it is apparent that there is a positive correlation between the percentage of informality due to 'Ticks and crosses' and the statistical census variable, 'Not fluent in English' (see Figure 4). The AEC's 2003 analysis of the 2001 election showed that the 'Not fluent In English' variable is a predictor of informality and is highly significant statistically. A regression analysis shows that this variable is a major predictor for 'Ticks and crosses' informality. Figure 9 in the appendix charts 'Ticks and crosses' against the socioeconomic index.
Figure 4: 2004 Ticks and crosses as percentage of overall informality, and variable 'Not fluent in English'.
Since it is reasonable to assume that informal ballots in the 'Marks' and 'Blanks' categories indicate intentionally informal or 'protest' votes, the 'Number 1 only', 'Ticks and crosses', 'Non-sequential' and 'Incomplete' categories might best be targeted to lower the overall national informality rate. Table 8 shows the predicted effects on overall rates from reductions in all categories.
|Highest categories of informality||Raw total in 2004
(% of overall informality)
|National informality if category reduced by 25%||National informality if category reduced by 50%||National informality if category reduced by 75%|
|Ticks and crosses||9.34%||4.99%||4.87%||4.75%|
|Non-sequential and incomplete||19.74%||4.85%||4.60%||4.35%|