Research Report 9 - Pilot Project on Informality in Port Adelaide: II Voter Education Campaigns in 2004

Updated: 30 May 2013

II Voter Education Campaigns in 2004

At the 10 November 2001 federal election, a total of 580 590 informal votes for the House of Representatives were recorded out of 12 054 664 votes, representing 4.82% of the total votes. In 2004, a total of 639 851 votes (5.18%) were counted as informal, an increase in 0.36 percentage points since 2001. As the study of the 2001 election revealed, there is a strong correlation between informality levels and electoral areas with high numbers of non-English speaking residents.

The difference between State and Federal electoral systems, and between the House of Representatives and the Senate ballots, is one possible source of confusion for electors from non-English speaking backgrounds. [4] Ticks and crosses, "1" only, and non-sequential ballots are informal ballots which could indicate an unintentional informal vote, as opposed to ballots which are blank or marked with scribbles which may indicate an intentionally informal vote. As some of this informality may stem from a lack of understanding of voting processes or instructions, these categories of informality may be more significantly influenced by voter education campaigns targeted to clarify differences in voting systems.

The informality rates at the 2001 election resulted in several activities by the AEC to address and reduce informality levels. Several different initiatives were undertaken, including an enhanced public awareness program implemented in New South Wales and Queensland to address the possible impact of optional preferential voting systems used for State elections. [5] 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. Furthermore, issuing officers were provided with a script and instructed to remind all electors of this requirement when issuing ballot papers.

Community information sessions were conducted during August and September 2004 in NSW in Auburn, Parramatta, Liverpool, Cabramatta, Blacktown and Canterbury Bankstown. These areas were selected based on the recorded high levels of informal voting at the 2001 election and with high levels of non-English speaking electors. Information sessions were conducted in conjunction with Migrant Resource Centres and were designed to educate key ethnic community leaders and service providers, who in turn acted as intermediaries within their local communities to inform others of how to participate fully in the election process and make their vote count.

Whilst these public awareness and information campaigns were developed with an aim to reduce informality, it is difficult to quantify their effectiveness. Trends in voting can be examined in certain communities, however ballots cannot be traced to the electors to determine whether or not they voted formally. The pilot project in Port Adelaide was developed to measure the impact of targeted information campaigns to reduce informality levels among non-English speaking communities.

  1. Furthermore, in most countries, and at in some Australian states (e.g. South Australia where a tick or cross is a valid first preference vote), ticks/crosses are valid expressions of preference and do not render a ballot informal.
  2. In both New South Wales and Queensland, it is optional for an elector to record a full list of preferences on a State House of Representatives ballot. In both of these states, placing a number '1' only in front of the elector's first choice is a valid vote. At a Federal election, this ballot would be rendered informal.