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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Democracy

Informal votes in Australian federal elections
Graph Image for Informal votes in Australian federal elections

Source(s): AEC Informal Voting

INFORMAL VOTES

In Australia, as in all democracies, regular elections are held to give people the opportunity to vote for the party of their choice. Elections enable society to exercise control over governments and their policies, and to make governments accountable to the electorate (for example, by providing an opportunity to vote in a different party).

In Australia, voter turnout is not necessarily a good measure of participation of citizens in democratic society. Enrolment and voting in state and federal elections is compulsory and enforced. For this reason, a more informative measure to consider is the proportion of informal votes cast to show whether citizen engagement in this democratic process is improving.

In Australia, an 'informal vote' is one in which the ballot paper was completed incorrectly and so was not included in the final count (in most countries this is called an 'invalid vote'). An individual may cast an informal vote for any number of reasons, including simple errors, or because the electoral system is too complex (for example, they may be confused by the complex voting documentation), or because they want to make a deliberate protest or express disillusionment under a system of compulsory voting (AEC 2003).

The proportion of informal votes cast in federal elections was around 2% for the House of Representatives during the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. During the same time, Senate informal votes were between 9% and 10%. In 1984, a new method of voting for the Senate was introduced which led to a dramatic reduction in Senate informal votes, but appeared to cause confusion among voters and led to a rise in the proportion of House of Representative informal votes to 6%. While the House of Representatives informal vote rate has since declined, to 4% in the 2007 federal parliamentary election, it is still above earlier levels.

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