Mark Latham’s revenge: Youse can all get stuffed

Extraordinary: just extraordinary. Courtesy of the AEC, these are the seats in Australia with the most informal votes.  I had no idea the informal vote could be so high. All from NSW.

Division State Formal Informal Total Informal % Informal Swing %
Blaxland NSW 61,996 10,276 72,272 14.22 +4.91
Watson NSW 63,927 10,033 73,960 13.57 +3.79
Fowler NSW 64,243 9,770 74,013 13.20 +4.40
Chifley NSW 70,586 8,801 79,387 11.09 +2.86
McMahon NSW 67,671 8,372 76,043 11.01 +3.22
Werriwa NSW 62,086 7,353 69,439 10.59 +4.01
Barton NSW 66,309 7,613 73,922 10.30 +3.49
Greenway NSW 69,050 7,228 76,278 9.48 +3.15
Reid NSW 67,181 6,822 74,003 9.22 +3.48
Parramatta NSW 64,333 6,160 70,493 8.74 +1.97
Banks NSW 71,176 6,661 77,837 8.56 +2.73
Kingsford Smith NSW 70,347 6,307 76,654 8.23 +2.67
Lindsay NSW 73,606 6,403 80,009 8.00 +2.23
Macarthur NSW 69,068 5,947 75,015 7.93 +2.18

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chumpai
chumpai
11 years ago

Given they’re all from NSW I guess we can infer its a protest of sorts? Plenty of commentators have said how voters are sick of big party politics but going on these figures plenty of people can’t even bring themselves to preference the Greens.

observa
observa
11 years ago

I was a scrutineer in a booth in the seat of Hindmarsh in Adelaide (safe Labor for Steve Gearganas) Hadn’t done it before and I was particularly interested in the informal votes. Scrutineers can oversee the vote counting and query particular votes, although they must not handle a ballot paper. Around 2500 ballots were cast at this particular booth with 1802 voting directly in the ballot boxes. The rest being for out of area votes collected separately in sealed envelopes which may be higher than usual as Glenelg is a beachside suburb with hotel and holiday accommodation.

The AEC officials and temps go to work immediately the doors are shut at 6.00pm when trestle tables are set up and the Reps and Senate vote boxes are unsealed and emptied onto separate tables. As it transpired only 1797 reps ballot papers were counted, meaning 5 were missing and 2 Senate papers were found in the Reps ballot box so somehow voters walked away with 5 small green Reps ballot papers or they were still in the building. No system is perfect it seems. When I suggested it might be an idea to go through the recycle bin among discarded how to vote cards to ascertain if any get mistakenly discarded the officer replied they wouldn’t count. I said I understood that but wouldn’t it be fruitful to know more about where the discrepancy occurs. ie do voters definitely take them away? A ghastly look as if to say ‘who do you think you’re talking to?’ and then pooh poohed as against OH&S anyway to which I chuckled at the usual PS mentality. I was thinking of suggesting that if Ms Officious was afraid of needlestick injury to rule out one possible flaw in the system perhaps more risk prone private enterprise might, but then resigned myself to not going there. Possibility of law suits and all that O meboy.

Anyway, after noticing 2 distinct categories of informal votes I had managed to get the counters to allocate them to 2 piles for interest sake only, which seemed to go down well with factory floor, albeit to Ms Officious’ prior annoyance I had noted. 83 informals in all, divided whereby the clear intention was to vote and those where it wasn’t. 37 in the former category and 46 in the latter. The former largely consisted of a simple 1 in the box alongside one candidate’s name although there was one tick and a cross as I recall with a couple of 123s only. The latter category 46 in all were mostly blank with one or two with a line right through the paper, one with crosses in all boxes and one with smiley faces in all boxes.

What does that tell you? Well considering some voters are illiterate or semi-literate, aging mentally or may have language problems and bearing in mind we have compulsory voting, Australian voters take their voting very seriously and a blank paper may well be a serious vote. That belies the common urban myth you’ll hear bandied about so regularly and on Saturday they voted very seriously, at least in one booth I observed.

observa
observa
11 years ago

My lips are sealed but sufficeth to say it wasn’t for the watermelons. As a scrutineer, naturally I was handing out how to vote cards for one of the majors yesterday, something I hadn’t done since 1983 for the other major if that’s any help ;)

moz
moz
11 years ago

I tend to agree with observer. I scruted at the booth I handed out HTV’s at, and my impression is that from the 50-ish informals we had a fairly even split between “tried to vote but failed”, usually a single 1 in a box, and a mix of “I hate compulsory voting” type remarks and blank ballots. We had one vote for a cartoon character, one with very carefully drawn smiley faces, and one for a party not standing a candidate in our electorate.

I was disappointed at the number of voters who didn’t follow instructions, especially in the senate. I feel a bit sorry for some of the “below the line informals”, where people have clearly put a fair bit of effort into not quite meeting the requirements to cast a valid vote. Numbering most of the boxes or missing a few numbers here and there is just sad (look, if there’s 80 boxes and you get to 85 in your numbering YOU HAVE MADE A MISTAKE). Arrrgh! So frustrating.

And yes, the way to really piss off everybody in the counting process is just to walk out with your voting papers.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Another point of interest was two Reps votes were only numbered 1 to 5 in a 6 ticket card which I queried as to whether that made them informal, since instructions to voters were to number every box, much like below the line on the Senate ticket. The ruling was that they were OK and counted, as say 1-40, in sequence numbers, would be on a 42 ticket Senate ballot. Something about a 90% rule making it OK, although a simple 1, tick, or cross would be a valid vote in State elections. ie above the line with preferences allocated according to the candidate’s Party wishes presumably. That raised the question in my mind as to why if ‘above the line’ voting in the Senate, as well as 90% properly sequenced was OK below the line, why isn’t a 1, cross, tick or 1,2,3 similarly OK for those informal Reps votes? There needs to be uniformity of ballot treatment across Parliaments and across Houses to my mind, but sometimes you need an outsider to see the obvious and ask some silly questions.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Yes I know, like me you’re wondering why 1-5 is OK, but 1-3 isn’t, when only 1 and 2 will practically count in a preferential voting system and a cross, tick or 1 will count above the line on some ballot papers will count with automatic preferences but not on others and at other times. Surprisingly few get it wrong under the circumstances, although the how to vote cards light the way.

On that note let me step back one and describe what those ubiquitous ‘how to vote card’ distributors will notice, rostered on in my case at 3 separate polling booths during the day. Bearing in mind those informal pitfalls and yet a statistically low number, it will surprise you to note up to half of voters will wave away any how to vote cards(or walk steadfastly past the gauntlet with eyes averted) and take on the voting system alone. The other half or so consist mainly of voters who take every leaflet offered smilingly and proceed, whereas a much smaller proportion will seek out only the card they want, with a nod and a barrack, while the very odd one or 2 will make some disparaging remark at your offer. You can’t pick them as all ages, sexes, races and occupations (some in work clothes, sports gear and later dolled up for a night on the tiles)fill those broad categories I mentioned. It’s the one day you realise all are equal and count and there’s a natural cameraderie and recognition of that between all the how to voters and scrutineers. You may be spruiking for opposite political parties and policies but there’s an implicit understanding and common humbling before that human tide and their ultimate mark, that brooks no hubris or pretension of omniscience. It’s an experience I’d highly recommend to all and one that had faded somewhat from the memory banks from so many years ago.

Counting demonstrates why the AEC likes above the line as those very bulky and hard to manage Senate papers are quickly sorted into 2 piles- above and below the line groupings. Then the above the lines are quickly allocated to respective parties and informals, bearing in mind a single cross, tick or 1 is a formal vote. A priori Party preferences has immediately taken care of their 2nd preferences, whereas for below the line they must be sorted into 1 votes for candidates plus a much harder informal vote test and then second preferences determined, which cannot happen on the night due to time constraints. Hence the wait for subsequent days. Preferential voting in the Reps suffers from the larger problem re preferences, albeit the ballot papers are logistically easier to handle. Again it’s not possible to allocate second preferences because of time constraints ie staff are there for setup before 8.00am start to close at 6.00pm and counting and packup by 10.00pm. It’s a long day and some get grumpy fielding silly questions near the end of it all naturally enough.

observa
observa
11 years ago

And I’d add looking back over so many national elections, when did they ever get it wrong given the choices they were offered at the time?

ennui
ennui
11 years ago

Yes, Nick, it is ‘extraordinary’ given that the informal vote has tended to cluster around 4%-5% as a national average! Interesting that the jump only occurred in NSW and Qld. Clearly scope for future study.

Observa – in the last 30 or so years two quickly spring to mind – ’93 and ’04.

billie
billie
11 years ago

Glad Observa’s suggestion to retrieve missing ballot papers from the recycle bin was ignored. It would be too easy to stuff ballot papers in the recycle bin.
In the case of House of Reps if you number from 1 to 5 on a 6 candidate paper the inference is that the blank candidate was your 6th selection.

Well clearly the voters of NSW listened to Mark Latham. Were they disenchanted Labor voters who have thrown Abbott a lifeline or were they disenchanted Liberals? Hope they are happy to live with the results of their actions.
Informal voting is the Australian method of not voting.

billie
billie
11 years ago

I checked and yes all of those electorates are in outer suburban Sydney, I think only 2 were Liberal electorates. Indicates the disengagement of outer suburban dormitory suburbs Sydney with the political process and probably a lot more besides.

James Farrell
James Farrell(@james-farrell)
11 years ago

I’d be surprised if it these data weren’t highly correlated with data on English proficiency. The Chinese guty in front of me in the queue didn’t understand, and couldn’t be made to understand, that he needed to be registered in order to vote. I doubt that many voters in Blaxland, Watson or Fowler have any idea who Latham is. There must be a few seats in Melbourne with similar concentrations of new immigrants, so obviously the language factor is not the only one operateing. Is it possible that Labor has better grass roots campaigning in migrant communities there?

Tyro Rex
Tyro Rex
11 years ago

Observa,

re: leaving one reps slot blank. In the One Nation era there was a court case on this, where some voters simply refused to legitimize ON with any preference whatsoever. The court ruled that leaving one box blank is a formal vote as voter intention is clearly indicating a preference among all candidates. Is the voter’s intention clear is the actual test. Federally. State elections may vary and of course many states have optional preferencing.

I’m a long term scrutineer, done many elections now. The two worst elections I’ve seen were this one and 2001, where quite a few ballots had nothing but ‘Tampa’ related messages on them. Got one ‘youse can all get f**ked’ last night, several with all crosses (these are common) quite a few blank, some, mostly LNP it seemed, with just a 1 (probably confused about optional preferencing in the state elections).

Tim Quilty
Tim Quilty
11 years ago

I’d say they were traditional Labor voters who wouldn’t vote Labor but couldn’t stomach voting for the Libs.

I think there were a lot more people refusing to take HTVs this time around. And others handing them out commented the same.

Speaking of informal votes, my wife (who was voting for the first time, having gotten citizenship on 26 Jan) wanted me to check her ballot to make sure there were no mistakes. Instead, she realised that I had somehow written two [5] on my paper, and no [6]. Wasn’t I embarrassed. Hope I never did that before.

observa
observa
11 years ago

“Glad Observa’s suggestion to retrieve missing ballot papers from the recycle bin was ignored. It would be too easy to stuff ballot papers in the recycle bin.”

Two things here. This was at the end of counting and rechecking the number of Reps ballot papers which showed 1 short in the initial count already, leaving 5 still definitely unaccounted for. If any ballot paper had not been placed in the 2 sealed ballot boxes they were not valid as of opening for counting, albeit the 2 incorrectly placed Senate papers were added to the Senate counting table. That seemed reasonable under the circumstances but did indicate a couple of voters had escaped electoral officers observation when lodging their vote papers. Checking the recycle bin was simply an exercise in ascertaining whether the missing 5 ballot papers were all there, or had actually been taken from the polling booth (a Church Hall). There was no way they could have been added to the counted votes at that stage, unless there was some major group collusion, including 3 Party scrutineers. The counted ballots were sealed and signed off by scrutineers for subsequent counting next day in any case. In that regard I guess any counter could have spirited them away in the counting process, and/or even substituted some ballot papers they’d previously had access to and filled out for the purpose. Highly unlikely given the small number you could possibly get away with, the number of onlookers about and the futility of such a risky enterprise in any case. No, perhaps 5 voters really took the message to heart that their vote was very valuable and acted accordingly.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Come to think of it I don’t know if the Senate ballots were all accounted for at final count as I was more focussed on the Reps ballots and the informals in particular. presumably it would have been much more difficult to smuggle out such a large paper, whereas with half a dozen how to vote cards the Reps ballot paper could have easily joined the how to vote cards in the recycle bin. That was the point of my enquiry. eg. what if there were 5 filled in Reps ballots in with the rubbish? What if there were 5 unmarked or a mixture of the two or none at all? Just curious that’s all.

John B
John B
11 years ago

1. Booth workers must comply with directions from AEC. Although a ballot box guard tries to ensure that each voter places his or her two pieces of paper into the correct box, occasionally one will find its way into the bin. AEC directs that the bins not be searched, and this is fair enough if one considers the risk to security of the ballot if the bin provides some of the statistics.

2. Papers inadvertently placed into the Senate or Reps bins instead of the other way around are clearly seen to be secure and are quite correctly returned to the count.

3. The actual definition of a formal vote Vs an informal one is enshrined in law. The polling place workers are trained and tested in their knowledge of the correct processes. Any doubtful papers are referred to the Officer in Charge of the Polling Place for review.

4. I may be wrong here, but I think that all “informal” papers are re-counted by EAC staff in a central location before the count is finalised, so incorrect interpretations of the rules tend to be few and far between.

What is amazing here is not the raw “informal” vote per electorate but the swing in relation to 2007. Most electorates would not have suffered mass onset of Alzheimer’s Disease during this 3 year span, so it must be due to another factor – some sort of protest or repulsion at the thought of actually selecting a candidate worthy of a vote.

Very interesting. We will hear more about this for a couple of years, I suspect.

Ciarente
Ciarente
11 years ago

NSW has optional preferential for the lower house at a state level. As a result, informal vote is always higher in NSW than elsewhere, especially in seats with a high NESB population, because people think they know what they’re doing and do the same as they did in the state election.

That said, there is a swing to informal in NSW, but I’m not sure if it’s that much bigger than in other places – just coming off a higher base.

Stubborn Mule
11 years ago

Interestingly, while completing only 1 to 3 (from a ballot with five options) is invalid, completing 1 to 4 and leaving the last one blank is treated as a legitimate vote according to the AEC.

Robert Wiblin
Robert Wiblin
11 years ago

Informal voting trends explained: http://jackman.stanford.edu/blog/?p=1753

NSW has such high informal voting because they have optional preferential voting at the state level (I’m told).