Optional
preferential voting – where you don’t need to number every box – could
well end up as a good compromise measure between supporters of the
status quo and advocates of voluntary voting when moves are made to
redraw the Electoral Act. But why do people vote informal? Is it a
protest – or is it ignorance?

Expat Queenslander Simon Jackman,
the Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the
Department of Political Science at Stanford, sends these comments:

The single best predictor of the rate of informal voting is the number
of candidates on the ballot paper. Throw into the mix non-English
speaking households, and the interaction of these two variables, and
you’ve got most of the problem understood. There is more to the story,
but over the last three or four cycles,you run the statistical analysis
I sketched above and you’ve done a pretty good job in understanding
rates of informality.

There are some interesting wrinkles yet to be explored systematically:

• Conflict with the optional preferential system in state elections, in particular states;


What happens when an incumbent with (arguably) high name recognition
retires (as happened in some divisions in Sydney in 2004 with
relatively high proportions of non-English speaking households);


Ballot position of the major party candidates (randomly allocated in
each election, but a bad draw, say, for ALP candidates could
conceivably bump up the informal rate).

This said, there isn’t
a lot of professional kudos in political science for studying rates of
informality. The debate about compulsory voting could put this on
enough radar screens to change that.

The AEC’s own paper on informal voting at the 2001 election is online here
.

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Peter Fray
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