Research Report 7 - Analysis of Informality During the House of Representatives 2004 Election: Conclusions

Updated: 30 May 2013


Between 2001 and 2004, there was an increase in the percentage of informal votes for House of Representatives elections. 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.

In summary, this analysis of the increase in informal voting in House of Representatives elections from 2001 to 2004 reveals the following:

  • There was a significant increase in the percentage of ballots made informal by marks and scribbles. If the informality level in this category had not increased in 2004, overall informality would have stayed at 2001 levels.
  • The strongest predictor of the rise informality is an increase in the number of candidates on the ballot paper.
  • Ballots that are informal because the elector has marked 'Number 1 only' or 'non-sequential' make up the almost 50 percent of overall informality in all states and territories.
  • The 10 divisions with the highest informality levels were in among the 27 divisions with the highest non-English speaking background levels nationally. This has been an issue identified in the last two federal elections.

The differences in the voting systems between the states and territories, and in the ways ballots are deemed informal in those systems, continue to have an impact on informality at the federal level. Levels of ballots marked with 'Number 1 only' remain high in New South Wales and Queensland in 2001 and 2004 federal elections. New South Wales is due to hold its next state general election on 24 March 2007 and Queensland is also likely to hold its next state election in 2007, although the date is not yet fixed. The next federal election is also expected in the latter half of 2007. Therefore, if the AEC and its stakeholders do not address the impact of optional preferential voting in these states, informality at federal elections is likely to remain high in these states.

Many studies indicate that an electoral system with compulsory voting will always have a higher level of informal voting than a system in which voting is voluntary. Rather than abstaining, electors often choose to vote informally. The increase in the proportion of ballots declared informal because of 'Marks or scribbles' supports this assumption. But for increases in this category from 2001 to 2004, the overall level of informality would not have changed significantly between the two elections.

Other, accidental informality is explained by sociological factors. Informality levels, as explored in the AEC's 2003 analysis, are sensitive to such factors as levels of education and proficiency in English. Each year, the social make-up of Australia changes. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, projections for the population of Australia indicate that there is an overall total population increase of one person every 2 minutes and 9 seconds. Additionally, the number of overseas-born residents is increasing at a slightly higher rate than is the total population in Australia. As a result of this constant flux and net increase in the Australian population, informality levels, influenced by the sociological fabric of the Australian population, will continue to fluctuate. The 10 electoral divisions with the highest overall levels of informality have high proportions of electors from non-English speaking backgrounds. When the next series of census data is released, changes in informal voting can be compared to trends and changes in the general Australian population.

Together, these sources of informality explain Australia's observed levels of informal voting.

The AEC will consult with its stakeholders and members of the public to consider how it can work to the commission can more effectively reduce informal voting. These consultations will result in a number of recommendations, some or all of which may be piloted and implemented at the next election.